Manhattan doughnuts

It seems that everyone’s a blogger these days doesn’t it? Or maybe it just seems that way because of the people I choose to surround myself with – let’s call them friends. As many bloggers as there are, there’s as many different styles of blogging, as I guess there would be, we’re thankfully all very different, us human beans. Beyond the limitless subjects that are available for comment and perlustration, are the layout, tone, look and feel of the blogs themselves, ranging from the magazine style, professional looking and public service type sites to those far more indulgent. I started my first personal blog three years ago, at the same time I opened my personal Twitter account, and have always written primarily for myself, enjoying the experiences it’s opened up for me, staying also very aware I have a small audience, which is cool; means I can write whatever the hell I like, as indulgently as I fancy. In a similar way, I’ve never partaken of reader competitions or those blogger round robin type things, guest posts etc, nothing against those that choose to, it’s just not my thang, I’ve remained wary of being into sucked into the commitments and pressures those bring that would inevitably tear me away from the main purpose of this.

This – At the end of the day this is my hobby.

I enjoy to write my feelings and thoughts down, experiment a little, explore as much as I can and hopefully learn a little along the way. This is my place. It’s supposed to be fun. Partly the reason I’ve never felt the need for an overhaul or ‘new look’ or for it to look anything other than what it is; just my blog. Because of the above, I quite often find myself explaining to PRs that I’m not necessarily going to write something up parrot style, blog each and every experience (unless, of course, it’s something I’d wholeheartedly recommend) , I’m certainly NEVER going to promote a press release/cocktail/recipe I haven’t experienced first-hand. Might sound obvious, but….well, you might be surprised.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a product reviewer either, although I sometimes get sent products to ‘review’, I always explain that I may put my own spin on the ‘review’, and will only write it up if it’s something I’d personally endorse. Prime example was the juicer I was sent after I point blank refused to take part in the juice fast it was sent on the back of.  When I first started most of my blogger friends were on the chocolate and baking end of the blogger spectrum and so I developed a good relationship with many of the chocolatiers in the country. I still ADORE chocolate, but there are those that can, and do, that exclusively, it seems silly for me to go into lengthy detail of bars that I love, that on the whole are made in such small batches that they will never *quite* be the same again, as is the case in the wine and coffee worlds.

I originally, naively, thought I’d be able to bash out three blogs a week; one review, one recipe and one lunch/coffee place post. Yeah. So, that was slightly ambitious. I’ve settled into a less than I’d like, due to work and other commitments, compromise. This, after all, isn’t the only place I write, but as long as I blog each month at the very least, and I have managed this since the very beginning, that’s good enough, I’ll try not to be too hard on my self. It’s got to remain fun.

Gosh, that turned into a bit of a New Years monologue didn’t it?! Sorry, I’m meant to be telling you about booze.

It was at the launch of The King of Soho Gin (which I’ll tell you about another time I expect, so I’ll leave that there) that I met the UK distributors who got in touch directly and, after finding out I was a big fan of one of the other products in their portfolio, sent me a whacking great bottle. Rather than imbibe it glibly as was rather more than tempting, I decided to wait until I’d found a more interesting use for it. After all, like chocolate, I’m not specifically a booze writer, there’s many far superior, more knowledgeable and more dedicated than I. Oh, I imbibe plenty of the alcohols myself, as you might have gathered, but writing you a note by note breakdown of flavours seems unnecessary when there’s sites dedicated to it. Instead, I told them I’d have a play. And I did.

Antic Formula. A sweet vermouth, full of vanilla and bourbon notes, herbal and complex, heavier than many and dominant, some may say over powering; there was a small backlash when bartenders started using it in place of any sweet vermouth, tit for tat, but that seems to have calmed down a bit now, as it transforms a drink quite significantly. I admit, at first I was a sucker for using it in my Negronis, but as my palate for these things developed I realised it’s far too sweet and rich, knocking the balance, so intrinsic to this particular cocktail, out of whack. Now I like to play around with different ratios, usually falling on half antica, half regular martini rosso for my sweet part, along with the usual equal parts of campari and a simple gin like Beafeater. But then, I also add a maraschino cherry with my orange zest, so what do I know?! I was invited to a friends afternoon tea last weekend (check out the stunning cinnamon buns Simon made!), she’s one of my original blogger friends, I’ve known her for over three years, and for much of this time I’ve also been promising to make her doughnuts. So, with doughnuts on the brain, not an unusual scenario to be fair, I thought it was probably a good opportunity to flex my creative muscles and incorporate some of my giant bottle of Antica. It also happens that my love of the humble cocktail cherry is at an all time high for some reason, and the two suddenly seemed an obvious pairing. You may have thought I’d go down the Martinez route, but to me gin is too cool and elegant for dough and baking, not nearly warm enough for what I wanted. No, the Manhattan is where this was headed.

Starting with a sourdough leaven the night before, as I always do now when doughnut making, I add this to the Dan Lepard Short and Sweet recipe I’ve come to call my own (*cough* with credit to the man himself obviously *cough*), replacing around 50g of the plain flour from the recipe for wholegrain spelt, to add a little warmth and a touch more bite and flavour. I omitted a quarter of the milk from the yeast mixture, instead using the equivalent volume in whisky to soak some chopped up glade and maraschino cherries and some finely chopped orange zest. Adding the soaked fruit and a further dash of whisky to the next stage when combining all wet and dry ingredients.  Following the usual proving steps and a jolly dip and swim in the deep fat fryer I leave the doughnuts to cool while I mix up the icing. This is the dangerous part, for I’ve discovered one of the most luscious, easily ingestible and addictive things known to beast; HELLO Antica Formula icing. I struggle not to spoon dripping, gleaming spoonfuls directly into my gob, instead limiting myself to a single mini dough ball, dipped. Several times…Yes, I know the vermouth is goodly sweet enough without being combined unnecessarily with sugar (golden icing in this instance) but we’re talking doughnuts here. Get over it. The resulting glossy paste is a headily boozy sweet concoction with depth and subtle, fruity caramel and vanilla notes, that when drizzled over the surface of the cakes, melds and mingles all the other flavours beautifully.


I guess I really should have served these Manhattan doughnuts with their corresponding cocktail, but coffee was good enough on this occasion.

* Disclaimer – I’m always wary of taking anything fried out of the house as it’s NEVER good stale and frankly deteriorate rapidly, literally moments after it leaves the fryer in my opinion. Fried stuff is always, ALWAYS best gobbled fresh, straight from the fryer, preferably before anyone catches you.

 

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Blanchette Soho

Every now and then, a place opens that entices you to embrace it like an old friend, promising very quickly to become a regular haunt. Sager & Wilde last year was immediately one, Duck Soup in the past, Mishkins and Honey & co are others that I continue to return to and are a small number of places, few and far between that stand out as those I’d recommend, amongst the steady flurry of newcomers to the lively restaurant and bar scene that ebb and flow, few rarely capturing the heart or having the chance to become old favourites. There’s a repetition to the style you may notice, all of those I listed are worthy of a visit for either drinks or food, but more importantly, they’re simple places made up of, oh so much, more than the sum of their well conceived parts. I can’t place more emphasis on just the right overall ambience and style of service here, they also quite importantly, though not necessarily, for solo dining, have a great bar on which to dine and drink.

With just a single visit to Blanchette, who’s arrival sans fanfare, at an awkward time of year, on Soho’s D’ Arblay Street, has already become just that.

I don’t doubt that it was somewhat helped with the perfect glass of champagne in an elegant coupe style glass, that was brought immediately upon my choosing a seat, at the bar obviously, corner to the right. Or that one of the owners, Max, stood and chatted with me like an old ally whilst I awaited for my friends arrival, or that in fact my friend knows the owners somewhat; brothers Max, Yannis and Mallik. Almost irrelevent but worth knowing and very nice all the same.

Sat alone for a few minutes, I steal a moment to take in my surroundings, before lights are lowered and the magical web of evening is cast, the restaurant fills up with energetically buoyant folk and comes alive with fun music. The bar is clearly the focal point, and deservedly so, wooden and blessed with many bottles, a giant burnished chalice is filled with more, and beautiful hand painted tiles pretty things up. As a short arse, I struggle at first getting into my sprung wooden stool, but once perched, they’re much comfier than they look. There’s romantic looking spots in the front window, candlelight illuminating ethereally lovely place settings and more of the dainty crockery that at first caught my eye. Additional seating lines the wall opposite the bar, then the restaurant opens up towards the back into a taverna style, from what I can see from the other end, peering down past waiters and espresso machine, I’m told a 55 covers in total, yet the feel is more intimate than that number would suggest.

My friend arrives in a waft of kisses and more bubbles, a dinky pot of crispy pigs ears and crackling staves of any hunger pangs as we digest the menu, and, OH, what a menu of temptation. Reasonably priced everything is too, with small plates and bites that so perfectly capture everything I long to nibble to accompany great wines and champagne in so gorgeous a setting. In fact everything seems to sparkle and glimmer that evening, from the high chatter amongst girlfriends to the glint off chinking glasses and the effervescent attention from staff that is bestowed upon every single guest that walks though the door.

An, as dainty as you like, arrangement of croque monsieur arrives first and is one of the best I’ve tasted, partly because I love the exquisite delivery, designed for bites between sips; fizz against fried crispness. Who can resist buttery foie gras in a picture so Parisienne? Not us. Generous discs anoint tiny triangles of toast with decadence and bourgeois. Bread we barely touch but is served warm at the bottom of a brown paper bag, fresh and with a little pat of butter complete with spanking paddle. Naughty. (Think I’m being unnecessarily silly – check out the wallpaper in the toilets…)

Chips reveal our true roots but are as crisp and tasty as they come. Only the pork belly is not quite what we’re expecting, sliced thinly and crisp as bacon, it alternates with slices of black pudding and a sticky sweet dribbly sauce. Beef bourgignon is brought in error but left for our enjoyment in any case, and thank the gods, for it’s a tiny casserole pot of such unbridled deliciousness, we three struggle to contain our stabby bread weapons to dunk and mop till we hit the bottom with a disappointed thud. There’s surprising depth to that small bowl and a fine dish for the price, mushrooms and onions engorged with rich, almost sticky gravy, slick with the most incredibly tender chunks of meat, melt in the mouth may be a cliche, but this is it incarnate. Jerusalem artichoke and potato gratin with reblochon is a thing of such intense winter perfection; thick starchy slices, with great bite, no disintegration here, just a crunch of breadcrumbs and a cheesy sauce that would warm the coldest heart.

A dish of meringue is sadly too solid to be a delight when all we’re longing for is a squidgy middle, yet my chocolate and hazelnut dacquoise is a triumph of posh Ferrero Rocher, exactly as our waitress has suggested.

And oh, we’re stuffed to the gills and haven’t even touched the charcuterie or cheese! As we leave, the small bar is alive and revelling, so much so that it’s hard to tear ourselves away from what feels like a private party.

I can be obsessive (really?!) and so, as is often the case with places that clutch at my soul, I return as soon as is humanly possible, just two days later. It’s become traditional for us ‘kids’ to take mumma faerie to the ballet for her Christmas present, so we can marvel at the prettiness and the orchestra, the incredible dedication to an art, the strength, all sinewy and willowy and gorgeous. So a visit to see the Nutcracker at the Colliseum is perfectly appointed to enable a pre show nibble, and a nod to the joy of not having to be so remotely dedicated. We actually congregate en famille at lovely coffee slash wine bar Notes after.

With maximum of about thirty minutes available, what could be a rushed, fretful affair is not in the slightest; smoothed over, enabled and calmed by the brothers charming. A glass of chilled Beaujolais soothes and restores delicious balance and a harried plea for recommendations is handled so well, it rewards me with the joyous bounty of a little bag of warm bread and duck rillettes. Quite an innocuous plate those rillettes; a tiny quinelle of shredded meat is dotted with pickles and toast, quite extraordinarily light, zesty and so packed full of flavour, with none of the heaviness you might sometimes expect.

I’m in and out in a blur, but service is calmly unhurried, perfectly pitched and I can’t help booking in for myself and a friend later on in the week.

Did someone say obsessive?

I wholeheartedly love Blanchette, it has everything I look for in a restaurant; such sophisticated and elegant dining but with not a hint of stuffiness. It’s as perfect for a quick glass of something delicious as it is for a more drawn out evening of food and friends, solo dining or small groups. It’s not precious or trying to be trendy, it’s fun and grown up, the owners are honest and warm, and dare I say passionate, and it’s all very Gallic. In exactly the same way that Paris unexpectedly captured my heart earlier this year, this little wine bar has done the same; French food, fantastic wines and great service. I think they may be onto something…?

I do hope so.

Bistro Blanchette on Urbanspoon

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Of Christmas Carnage & Sandwiches

You know you’ve entered Christmas territory when breakfast looks like this:

Lunch is this:

And you have one of these whispering your name from the kitchen….

Oooof.

With the fiasco of Christmas day out of the way, a crescendo of anti climax, heart burn and hangover, you’re left with Boxing Day and it’s malingerers, depending, that is, on how many days you have off work. If you can resist the lure of the sales and the horrifying argy bargying that brings, the aftermath of the big day holds all the cosiness and relaxation that Christmas promises but rarely delivers, amongst the fretting of it being too far from the perfect, advertised ideal. A residual afterglow of tinsel strewn magic lingers in the air whilst festive favourites bestow the TV unusual charm, the real appeal lies in what is often the very best meal of the season; that’s right – the leftovers sandwich.

Those lingering days turn the best of us into slobby and slothful, festive slugs; whereby a cocktail cherry suddenly becomes a valid excuse for one of your five a day, actually stretch that to two, and you’re never more than a greedy handful from a gobful of Milk Tray, marzipan or wildflower honey and spiced nut mix (thanks Aunty Penny). The carpet is still hidden under an even covering of gaudy wrapping paper, presents still in little mounds where they were unleashed and a late rise with coffee rapidly eases into a glass of fizz or early aperitif, all whilst crying ‘no’. Who can resist just one more drink, chocolate, cheese plate, meat stuffed sandwich…

Any leftover roasties never last beyond the day itself, a crisp, carby sponge, dunked into any remnants of gravy left in its jug, to soak up the last of the evenings alcoholic excess. However it’s ritualistic for the rest of the carnage to be bedded under foil and forgotten about until the following day, whereby the full extent of their next day deliciousness can be appreciated with an empty tummy and clear(ish) head – although any leftover bubbles wouldn’t go amiss as an accompaniment.

A classic favourite is whatever meat has survived, be it turkey, beef, goose, ham, with gravy soaked stuffing, a layer of salvaged sprouts, perhaps a smearing of cranberry sauce and any stilton lurking around, all wedged between two doorsteps of bread.

This year, my boxing day(s) has been bereft of such comfort, as I spent the day with my brother and so they will glean all the perks of their labour, as is worthy reward for such good work. I can only weep as I imagine the glorious roast goose, picked apart and sandwiched with slices of sticky glazed ham, a smush of garlicky sprouts, gravy gooed stuffing and perhaps a hint of sharp Lincolnshire Poacher from the cheese board.

I cry.

In anticipation of this I pre-empted my loss with a sarnie made from scratch. No, never as good as made with proper leftovers, as they hold, integrally all the love and care that was put into the preparation of that first meal. Now having snuggled saucily together overnight, mingling in goose fat and gravy OF COURSE they’re going to taste even better, and one of the many reasons supermarket ‘festive’ sandwiches will always taste of sadness and cardboard, loss and despair.

My quickly prepared sarnie was still pretty good, but still far inferior to whatever you were eating yesterday. A layer of fried black pudding, roasted chestnuts fried with sprouts, shallots and garlic and then a coating of grated Stilcheton and Lincolnshire poacher between buttered (on the outside) bread and finally a good long squish in the panini press (or frying pan and weighted plate), I may have had a little bowl of gravy on the side french dip style, I would strongly suggest you do the same.

Considering the below was my choice of lunch before the the carnage of christmas even began, and I have more doughnut dough loitering in the freezer, I expect my sandwich experiments will get a whole lot worse, before they get better (or the opposite depending on your stance on the matter).

Yeah, I’m at least a day late with this post, but that’s festive apathy for you….

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Tinello and a Truffle Tantrum

Tinello has been around for about three years but it only came to my attention a few weeks ago when a bunch of my friends attended a sort of relaunch evening. As is often the case when a small group of bloggers are confined in one space, Twitter and Instagram became engorged with repetitive pictures of their dinner, in particular it was a frankly ridiculous looking dish of pasta piled high with tumbling truffle shavings, that’s image insidiously punctuated my feed all bloody evening long. I eventually commented on one of the many pics expressing my appreciation and the restaurant dived in, asking if I’d like to come visit myself? Well, sure thing. Why not. I’m not above a spot of tasty truffle action.

Date firmly in diary, I sold a restaurant visit to the boy woven solely around stories of this one dish, not knowing much else about the place if I’m honest. Eyes gleaming with earthy and pungent fungi dreams, I looked forward to my trip, at the tail end of an elongated stretch of birthday celebrations. An email, shortly before my visit, from the PR looking after the process, quickly dashed those dreams; meal was comped – but NOT for truffle.

Hmmmph.

Oh well, I reasoned, the truffle dish was on as a special, a show-off highlight for the illustrious gathering, and probably wouldn’t be available anyway…..

Tinello resides in affluent, Sloaney Belgravia, a few posh antique shops along from Sloane Square. On approach, a fairly bland, generically dark front opens up to an equally dark inside. We’re greeted warmly, if stiffly, and seated at a small two man table towards the front, offered a glass of prosecco, and when my eyes get acquainted to the dim lighting I peer around. A fairly narrow room, furnished with customary bare brick walls is, seemingly at first, lit mainly from a bright bar at the back, sparkling with glasses and bottles, it’s only later I notice the rather lovely low slung lights on pulleys. A trip to the toilets later, through a door at the back of the restaurant reveals the true nature of the original building and is liking walking out from behind a film set and stepping behind the scenes. This old building seems to cradle the new, foreign inner structure lovingly with motherly, all forgiving arms. I creep up a deserted creaky staircase and walk around what feels like someones ancient home before returning ever so slightly dazed to my seat as you might emerge into broad daylight from a magical theatre production.

Eyeing white table cloths with suspicion I dip into a tiny plate of pickles and dunk distinctly average bread into olive oil. A menu is brought for our inspection and the specials read out – all I hear is truffle, truffle, TRUFFLE. A teasing cruelty. I fix my stare to ink in order to try and suppress the instinct to cry out an affirmative to the perversely offered specials.

The menu is a delicious puzzle of starters, small plates, pasta, seconds and mains, we gratefully thank our waiter when he approaches, asking if we’d like his suggestions for our first course. Seems to be the sensible choice when I can’t decide between a rather lovely sounding vegetable dish from the starter section or a mish mash of smaller plates. We also allow him to choose a red wine. So lazy but far less taxing on my little brain when the list is so extensive.

Shortly plates start to waft in from the Small Eats section and we pounce hungrily on slices of smoky speck and a salad of bitter chicory that’s dressing clings delicately from each crunchy frond. A tangle of dainty courgette fries are perfectly crisp but desperately lacking that moreish quality a little more seasoning would lend, burrata is everything you’d expect, bejewelled with the superfluous citrus crunch of pomegranate. Tuscan chicken liver crostini unfortunately resembles something unmentionable on the pages of a food blog and is served in an un-friendly three way portion, but a non descript dinky earthenware dish of Ribollita – a Tuscan bean and cabbage stew – is thick with fatty pork and the epitome of savoury comfort.

I’ve chosen what I judge to be the next best thing to truffle on the menu, having long since decided pasta in some form is the order of the day; a wild boar ragu; rich and warming, the meaty sauce straddles substantial, delightfully toothsome homemade pappardelle like an inappropriate leg hump and banishes all thoughts of the cold and gloom outside for a few moments. It is however lacking entirely in truffle. The boy has a well cooked and generous venison dish. Also, sans truffle.

Sorry – I’m being a petulant brat now.

The boy shuns his usual favourite dessert, tiramisu, and goes off piste with a cheese plate; this one, a simple arrangement of two excellent cheeses, I forget what exactly, but a goats’ that progresses from slightly chalky and firm in the middle to creamy and soft towards the edges that’s paired with a piquant pecorino, good sized slabs these are, with daubes of honey and slices of fruit bread. My choice is an equally uncharacteristic, as I don’t as a rule do pastry, chocolate tart and is really rather good; crisp pastry, decadent chocolate filling, glossy ganache topping and a fabulous scoop of pistachio ice cream to top it all off. We dismiss coffee, as is generally wise to in restaurants, but instead we’re presented with two tiny petit fours like a pair of miniature tits on a plate. And oh my, these are the surprise hit of the evening, for where they have the crackled look of macaroons or small biscuits, these are actually little choux buns, which when torn asunder reveal a stunningly naughty filling of marsala cream, crowned with a hair lick of vanilla fondant icing.

Service is on the austere side for my liking; I’ve never been a fan of being treated as if incapable or fussed over – my napkin slips off my leathered knees on a number of occasions and each time it’s magically placed, neatly folded at my side, my unmentionable behaviour not mentioned, a dirty secret between them and I – and don’t talk to me about the scraper of doom, I KNOW I’m messy, I’ve learnt to live with it ok?!

I feel like I’ve moaned a lot here but make no mistake, we have a lovely time, that ragout and the little petit fours worth a visit alone if you find yourself stranded amongst the well to do this far West.

As we leave I catch sight of a large truffle protected under a glass dome on the reception desk, and I could swear it gives me a cheeky goading wink.

Tinello on Urbanspoon

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Rita’s Take 2

There are some openings that immediately take precedence, jumping straight ahead of the queued list of venues I want to try. Usually these are places where I know something of the owners or chef, so already have an insight into whether I’ll like the style, or maybe a second or third (or more) opening from a favourite – see here Russell Norman’s imminent opening of Ape and Bird. Or else it simply promises to be my sort of thing, essentially; casual food, bar dining, cocktails and fun. Rita’s is all of these. Well sort of, as it’s mark two of their pop up at Birthday’s, last years instant success on Stoke Newington High Street. I loved it then; it was messy, hectic, slightly grimy and thoroughly enjoyable, comfort-food bar dining at its best, and I was dying to see how they’d evolve into their very own space.

Not knowing remotely what to expect but hoping the menu won’t have changed too much, I headed up to their permanent spot on Hackney’s Mare Street last Thursday. My first impression is ‘clean’; in appearance it’s the antithesis to Birthday’s manic lurching bar, dark walls and sticky floor. Here there are white walls and sweetly pink upholstery; a Barbie boudoir, sugary dream of white with pale pink frosting. Don’t be fooled though; there’s nothing twee here, any notions erring on the wrong side of saccharine are tempered by a rocking soundtrack and edgy atmosphere, saturated with hardcore frying and a very sound menu indeed. A slim front bar section leads out to the main dining area, with bar to the right and open kitchen at the back, stairs lead down to another dining area that smells enticingly, promisingly of fried chicken.

A sour cherry Four Roses number in hand, we browse the new menu with glee, a merry mix of old favourites along with the new and an asian spin. Although I love the sound of the pigs head ham noodles and crispy duck with mooli slaw, and the miso aubergine with mushroom toban is a must for another visit, we’re hankering after some good old fashioned Rita style food. Nostalgia wins out on this occasion, and we order a bunch of favourites. The more snacky style food and sandwiches appear to be designated for the front bar section, but our friendly waiter allows us to pick and mix from the menus to our hearts content. A mention here, as we’re hungrily awaiting our order, has to be made to the huge plates of fried chicken and crispy duck that keep emerging from the kitchen, smelling AMAZING and looking proper fit.

Any doubts that Rita may have lost her roots are mollified when our chicken bun is brought out, classic stylee, in a brown paper bag emblazoned with her tramp stamp. The sandwich itself is better than ever; tender chicken fried crispy and juicy on a bed of shredded lettuce and mayo in the most beautiful little chewy sourdough bun. Our patty melt is again perfection perfected; I dread to think how much butter was involved in the frying of the sandwich but it adds golden deliciousness to every bite, oooooooozing with ghetto cheese and bulging with juicy burger, my only complaint is that it could do with a counterpoint to all that richness, we ask for a little pot of sriracha ketchup to dunk into.

Deep fried cheese comes with a warning from our waiter that gleans excitement from me and a look of fear from my companion. Bring. It. On. Probably a good thing we share actually as it’s a full-on gooey triangle filled, and running away, with smelly brie, the little mounds of shaved fennel salad and kimchi are most welcome and balance the pungency nicely. A side of crispy fried crushed potatoes is a massive bowl of carby joy; skin on crunchy spuds dribbling with sour cream and herbs. We’re in equal parts relieved and dismayed that our order of chicken wings is forgotten.

Relieved. Yes, definitely relieved, as our desserts are brought to our table. Pie is tempting, ice cream sandwich gets a maybe next time nod, but there’s no way I’m not ordering the Dulce De Leche Beignets with Foie Gras. No way. Nope. And we’re not sharing, though I might suggest you do, as we’re both equally alarmed at the size of this dish. Expecting something a touch more dainty than the two full size doughnut-like torpedoes suddenly before us, looming over an acutely decadent puddle of sauce. The beignets are mercifully light actually and we make silent pigs of ourselves as we scoop up every last sticky sweet scrap of dip. Having ordered a negroni off menu, our waiter is just as unfazed with our martini order next, feeling we need something potent (pure gin *cough*) to help open up our sweet bellies. We waddle out, already looking forward to brunch.

So, just a few days later, we return amidst Hackney mayhem and the devastating news that Raw Duck is to be demolished, just minutes up the road, due to structural crisis.

A genius Fernet Kola concoction hits just the right note for this session, a Marmite-like ingredient that I love; deeply herbal with cooling mint undertones, it’s a weird and wonderful combination. With chicken and waffles out of the picture for our, admittedly on the late side, reservation, we browse the other options, determined this time to deviate from old favourites. My friend’s hock hash with duck egg looks just the thing, but it’s my miso butter scrambled eggs on muffin, accessorised with a highly unnecessary side of crispy bacon, that’s the surprise brunch win. A buttery, eggy mess flops across the loveliest toasted muffin that tastes suspiciously home-made with it’s tell-tale sourdoughy bubbly crust and chew. It’s the addition of miso and sesame to the scramble that elevates the dish far beyond the pedestrian and makes for an intensely delicious, satisfying, and highly aromatic, brunch.

Rita’s new joint may be a collaboration, with Gabriel Price and Andrew Clarke in the kitchen and Jackson Boxer flitting between here and Brunswick House, but make no mistake, this feels like Missy Flynn’s lair, stomping her girly, biker boot clad foot, she reigns supreme over her battenburg and blancmange pink, fried chicken castle.

 

Rita�s on Urbanspoon

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An Ode to Kale and Pizza Fritta

Kale appears to be this seasons ubiquitous veg, replacing last years sprouts as green thing most likely to appear on a menu near you. I’d like to say I’m as impervious to current food hype as I am to pop culture (Breaking Bad not withstanding – though I am shockingly late to that party – NO SPOILERS PLEASE), but I’m sucked in to every damn one, no food fad is naff or over exposed enough for this one.

Whatever. When it’s a trend that’s as healthy and tasty as kale, why bother resisting eh? At this time of year my body craves dark green, deeply savoury veg, maybe it’s the iron or vitamin C? Anyway, as I bolt towards the impending alcoholism that takes over the end of the year, a messy riot of Birthday, Christmas and New Year rolled into around six weeks of fuzzy evenings and days spent guzzling Diet Coke and coffee in a bid to reinstate a less shrivelled state, I tend to feel as though my food should at least have some life enhancing properties. If only to be immediately depleted later that evening…

Whilst I love kale as a sort of cruciferous matchmaker; cosying up spuds with random meat, turning leftovers into a coherent meal, adding an irony edge to pumpkin fritters (for those that asked on my Instagram feed, Yumski blogged the recipe I gave here), I think my favourite use for the firm leaves are as a pizza topping. Tumbling across the risen and bubbly doughy surface of a sourdough pizza base, fried leaves roll with nuggets of pork popped from their sausage casings and add a crisped up umami note when they emerge from the oven under a blanket of molten mozzarella. (My recipe for sourdough pizza is much the same as the one for my sourdough doughnuts in that I create a leaven from the mother the night before I want to use it, then incorporate that into my regular pizza base recipe the next morning, folding the dough at intervals throughout the day – scientific then? er yeah)

Even better though, I’ll reserve a nugget of the pizza dough, stashing it in the fridge for a slow prove, before breaking it out the next day for lunch. A couple of reviving quick kneads to bring it back to room temperature and it’s ready to be transformed into pizza fritta; I shape roughly into a flat, tell tale bubbles popping and undulating beneath my hands, then leave to rest while I fry up a sliced shallot, garlic clove, kale and fennel seeds, before plunging into my fryer for a couple of minutes. Once patted down to remove excess oil, I chuck across the kale mixture and drape with thinly sliced lardo.

There’s something about fried dough – it transforms into the most deceptively light and fluffy bread with crunchy exterior. I honestly thought pizza fritta was finally about to have a moment this Summer, but for whatever reason it just never quite took off. Pizza Pilgrims busted out a fabulous take at the Soho Food Feast, a rendition stuffed with salami and mozzarella and doused in tomato sauce. My local, the quite brilliant Sapore Vero, made full size versions with classic toppings and I had a pretty good one at Peckham’s Munch Festival, including sweet riffs with fig jam and blueberries. When done badly however pizza fritta is one of the worst things in the world; a soggy, oily and frankly completely gut churningly inedible mess that the abysmal Pasean Restaurant on Exmouth Market managed to perfectly demonstrate when I visited. Perhaps a fairly good example as to why one of my favourite snacks never got off the ground.

Shame.

Perhaps not the healthiest treat admittedly, but a fabulous light lunch from time to time, my version is golden and crisp, wonderfully savoury with a whisper of pork by way of lard; aggressively salty it’s translucent slivers dress the snack like a deliciously fatty crown.

If you can’t be bothered to make your own I have some good news….James from Pizza Pilgrims tells me they’ll be bringing back their take on pizza fritta for the fabulous Night Tales from those Background Bars guys just in time for my birthday, and I know for a fact they’ve been playing around with kale as an ingredient thanks to Instagram (for regular pizza, but you never know right….?!). I adore Night Tales; it has Patty and Bun, it has a gin bar, it has twinkling lights and wooden verandas. Did you know there’s also a Negroni bar? NEGRONI. BAR.

Le Sigh….

Or as someone on Twitter pointed out when I predictably tweeted my lunch at the weekend “I think you’ve just summed up the food scene 2013 in one tweet”

Bandwagon? Moi? Whatevs. Grab a Negroni and get involved!

 

 

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Aperitivo Club at Cucina Asellina & Veal Stuffed Olives

Short, bitter sharpener. Umami bomb nibbles. Tight. Sharp. Punchy.

Stomach sufficiently awoken.

Aperitivo done.

To be honest, I’m a thrill seeker, a taste chaser and could quite merrily dine in this manner all evening, repeating ad infinitum until collapse. The idea here however, is more of a post work pit stop, to catch up with friends over an aperitif and a plate of nibbles as a perquisite to moving on for dinner. I was invited to try out Cucina Asellina‘s take on the classic Italian cocktail hour. I had no idea the restaurant existed, buried within Me London Hotel on The Strand, so it was as good a chance as any to have a little nosy.

I take a seat at the bar, glance over the curt menu and order the obvious while I wait for my friend to arrive. The room is gleaming swish hotel with mediterranean touches, a glistening marble courtyard. I get a danger glance from the bar man when I ask for Bombay Sapphire to be switched for Tanqueray in my Negroni, but it’s as good as any I’ve had sat at a bar, lubricating the atmosphere. It’s still early and so diners are drifting through in dribs and drabs, the light is high and my vision is still acute, drawn to dishes of food bobbing past, Italian fare that looks simple but well prepared. Could well be worth a return visit soon.

A platter set before me holds impossible to resist appetite enablers, tiny mouthfuls bursting with flavour. Plump olives lounge in a bowl of ice, dressed with the most incredible garlicky oil, dainty little toasts are drenched in more of that oil and topped with meat and capers, ricotta and sweet peppers. That oil. A skewer of mozzarella and artichoke pales in comparison, but piquant pecorino plunged into truffled honey is an absolute heady joy.

A martini next and we’re curious to try veal stuffed olives, an aperitivo portion is just 3 ish so we order a whole plate. And, well aren’t these nice? Deep fried breaded olives with a smooth meaty filling. But they’re a level of savoury short of perfection. I want more salt, more umami. These are appetite stimulants after all, and paired with punchy cocktails, they need to administer a good, powerful kick.

It’s an excellent start to our evening and we move on to The Merchants Tavern to continue mesonoxian pursuits of more of the same. Well I’m contrary, don’t like to be told what to do, and would far prefer picking and nibbling my meal at a bar. Thanks all the same for the dining suggestion.

I find myself the following day, left with a resounding echo of those olives flitting through my head. My mind toying with variations on the idea. It’s an itch I can’t help but scratch, and so that evening I make my own. Finely chopping pork and veal for a small batch, in order to keep a little texture, I add a large spoonful of grated parmesan, toasted and roughly ground fennel seeds and plenty of seasoning. Slicing open pitted large queen olives, soaked in water to remove some of the overpowering saltiness, I stuff with a small ball of the mixture, coat in breadcrumbs and deep fry.

A super swishy nibble whilst cooking….

Even better with a martini whilst being cooked for (and, yes I put a cherry in mine!).

Aperitivo my way.

 

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Bones – Paris

I’m afraid I’m more than a little ignorant when it comes to anything outside of my cosy little world, essentially London, and a particularly small circle of coffee, food and cocktail centric places at that. I sometimes need reminding how acutely micro those worlds are. There’s countless times I’ve mentioned a new restaurant, or indeed highly esteemed critic’s name to a friend only to recieve an unutterably uninterested and blank face. I rarely do holiday, so you can imagine how utterly clueless I am when peering outwards anywhere remotely more further afield than that of my own tiny sphere of existence.

It does mean that I’m all ears to recommendations, so when my good friend Gemma suggested she thought Bones would be right up my street, I quickly snatched it, clutching that one place to my chest like a beacon. I immediately emailed reservations, having established it was definitely my sort of sounding place, and discovered it was but a 30 minute walk from the apartment I was staying, assuming I’d never to hear from them again. It was a surprise and relief (I’d not planned any further than this one bar) when the restaurant emailed me back the day I arrived in Paris, to confirm my single booking at the less than appealing, but exciting none the less time of 10pm on Friday.

Full of enthusiasm, on my second night in Paris, I head to the restaurant for 9.30pm. I’m surprisingly easily accommodated at the bar, explain I have a 10pm reservation and ask for a wine recommendation. Something not too heavy to start, a delicious easy drinking red is recommended with a tasting and poured. I discover this is the house option. I warm. Even better, rather than put the dregs of a nearly finished bottle back behind the bar, the bottle is left with me for a little cheeky top up. The bar menu, a list of cold arrangements is tempting and looks delicious as it’s brought out to fellow drinkers, but in the end I decide to take my restaurant reservation.

With dismay, I’m led out towards the back area designated for diners of the cooked menu, and to a tiny two seater smack in the middle. My waiter can apparently empathetically hear my silent cries, for after leading me there, asks if I’d prefer to eat at the bar. I almost snog the man with relief. YES. Perfect. I cheerfully trot back to the bar, resume my seat and accept a proffered menu, whereby I come over all awkward customer again…

The kitchen offers a four course set menu, however a fairly large proportion of it is fish based, with a choice of two meaty mains. I explain my loathing of the sea based creatures, and once again my waiter is the embodiment of understanding and charm, whisks away the offending menu, whilst telling me the kitchen will prepare something. Not to worry. I don’t, feeling I’m in safe hands, and more importantly and remarkably, without feeling that I’m being a bother.

Being accustomed to London’s small and beautiful little wine bars; Sager & Wilde, Duck Soup, 40 Maltby Street, etc etc, this feels somewhat larger and although not necessarily more put together, there’s certainly, what feels like, a bit more going on. The vibe is distinctly New York cool with a French edge; busting out of an otherwise non-descript back street, there’s acres of naked brick work, a busy open kitchen at the back, suckling pig being dissected at the bar and transformed into stunning looking sandwiches, perilous spiral staircase in a dark corner that leads up to the loos, trendy soundtrack and attractive bearded tattooed staff. Patrons are generally distractingly gorgeous enough to make me curse my age and perch, propped on every conceivable surface; the window ledges, bar, tall front tables and couches, their chatter and the chinking of glasses rising above the music.

Once I’m happily ensconced back at my seat at the bar, food starts to arrive and honestly doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to stop. First a bowl of olives, plump and juicy, pale green ones get devoured first, then spiced almonds, addictively doused in salt, a basket of too thickly sliced bread and a separate plate with a proper serving of butter to strew it with (ooooh, butter for my bread, that’s a first here). A whole plate of duck charcuterie arrives, having just been sliced to my left, here’s an inkling of the sort of portions I’m to expect. Vivid pink slivers of slippery slithery meat are smoky, uber rich, with translucent fat that dissolves on the tongue like a treasured memory. Assuming this is just the beginning, I’m ever so slightly joyously concerned when a succinct little plate containing a single sliced duck heart is placed before me, dangerously pink and thwapping with flavour. Gorgeous.

Next I’m presented with a salad, something I hear is somewhat uncommon in this area, and what a beast of a salad it is. A menagerie of heirloom toms that range from green, through yellow and orange through to the darkest, dramatic purple. I’m not usually a tomato fan, raw anyway, guilty of pulling them from my burgers before feeding into my face, these however are soft and spongy with intense flavour, none of the bitter acidity I’m expecting but all the sweetness. Paired with abundant sprigs of fragrant basil and receptive ricotta, I drag chunks of tomato through large splodges of the stuff, mopping up fresh juices and green oil on the way.

Guinea fowl is presented next, another large plateful of delicious things; meat is succulent with perfectly crisp skin, served on a sweet mound of smashed pumpkin  and dotted prettily with herbs.

Thinking that’s my meat course done, I’m slightly taken aback when another plate arrives, again a more than generous portion, this time of gorgeous, rare slices of veal fanned out, thickly cut, with a sous vide soft texture, and served with radish and oil slicked rocket. Skirt tightening. I fear for dessert.

Another two plates arrive. Oooooof.

Actually, it’s not as bad (who am I kidding – it’s great) as it looks. Dessert is refreshingly light, though I’m still, understandibly I think, struggling at this stage. Feeling positively Roman, sans purging, I pop perfumed muscat grapes, languishing on a bed of ice, in my gob betwixt swigs of wine. I alternate between this and the delicious luxuries in bowl number two, of prunes, Armagnac ice cream and shards of meringue.

By the time I’m done, I’m quite literally ripe to pop myself, feeling engorged like a European princess, fed to plumpness.

My bill for all that is a frankly ridiculous 50 odd Euros (including booze). The staff couldn’t have been more helpful, charming or friendly. They serve Cafes Belleville coffee, though I didn’t try it on this occasion. It’s cool and relaxed, the menu is modern and generous, it feels a little like a secret find.

Ridiculous.

GO!

 

 

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Fairytale Cocktails at The Folly

As a sort of foreward to what sounds like potentially my ultimate play den and a very dangerous new story indeed, a three floor fairytale inspired bar and restaurant set to open from the Drake and Morgan group, entitled Fable, we sample a similarly enchanted cocktail menu that’s just launched at The Folly. A prelude of, erring on the twee sounding, drinks and potions that deliver something a little more traditional fey than their names.

An invite to drink Fairytale Cocktails. I must be in my very own faerietale….

Entering the city based cavernous space of The Folly, a confusion of twinkling lights and loud voices, sharp suits and spiky heels, I, all Hansel and Gretel like, follow the chinking of pretty glasses to a room set slightly apart from the main area. Having nothing to go by, bar a couple of cocktail names on the invite, I feel reassured by the set up; low it appears on frou and fruit and high in good old booze and sparkle. My fear when faced with anything remotely ‘fairytale’ is that the focus is too much on the Disneyfied, rather than the far darker and intriguing ‘reality’. Have you read any of the original faerie tales? Those fey were naughty, soulless little creatures, intent on mischief and irresponsible fun…..

The Folly appear to have struck a good balance here, without delving too deeply into folklore, it’s a light hearted nod to the enchanting and magical. I can almost hear the pretty, tinkling laughter, just a drink out of earshot, of the faerie folk as our barman steadily creates each of the drinks from the menu. As I sip each potion, of love and of medicine, I can feel the naughty sprites dancing around me, cavorting merrily and trying to dizzy with their spells.

I’m an absolute sucker for violet, with it’s romantic floral scent harking back to a more charming era, and so The Princess in The Tower is a rather pretty start to proceedings; a classic champagne cocktail with violet liqueur and a dash of peach bitters, served on a dainty plate replete with iced gems.

Aesop’s Fable is, of course, a delicious whispered secret, a wink to the next location, of the next chapter of stories that will be told there. Served in a little bottle, it’s a short fruity number containing Whitley Neill gin, grand marnier, creme de cassis, cherry bitter, juniper and cinnamon syrup and fresh raspberries.

Enchanted appears to be a spell of deception, not a new creation at all but a classic New York Sour. I’m not complaining – it’s delicious!

My favourite of the concoctions is a saccharine sounding Sugar Plum Fairy; it’s just like sipping wonderful face puckering sweet yet sour candy. Into a gorgeous heavy crystal glass, chilled with a giant gobstopper of a frozen plum, goes Tanqueray gin, maraschino, lemon, sugar and plum bitters. A potent, magical bewitchment indeed.

As we finish our last rounds of drinks, and each sip our very own Flowery Godmother; the prettiest, rose anointed gin mojito, heads a little fuzzy with deliciously poisonous tinctures, our barman, clearly a changling or a faerie folk in disguise, then tricks us into festive revelry with a preview of a selection of their Christmas menu…

Getting drunker by the second, we heartily indulge in spiced fig Manhattans and wonderfully tart clementine Martini’s.

A final Negroni, just to make sure they can and all that (they can), and I’m fit for a stupor to rival Sleeping Beauty….

 

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Paris – Belleville

I always find it stressful committing to a hotel in any given location, the choice fills me with dread, seemingly riddled with pitfalls and booby traps, it’s as though someone’s watching and just waiting for me to click the ‘purchase’ button before announcing HAHA – that I’ve booked into the red light district (Copenhagen), tourist hell (NYC) or the absolute arse end of nowhere (Dusseldorf). I’m not a great planner to be honest, I dream of neat spreadsheets split into areas or regions, but I never manage to get around to it amongst my never ending sea of pressing tasks/projects/fads/jobs, and so happening upon just ‘the right’ neighbourhood tends to be a combination of absorbing the right information, at just the right time, or luck. Probably in equal measure.

My trip to Paris is primarily in order to attend the launch party of La Brulerie de Belleville and launch of Holybelly, and so with a little advice from David Flynn, of the former, I looked to book somewhere in the Belleville area, just up from and close to, Canal Saint Martin. A modicum of googling reveals this is Paris’ equivalent to our East London, a spot favoured by the hip and young, and I immediately warm (not being either, of course, but hoping it suggests I might be far enough from tourist hell to be cheap enough for the new and exciting to thrive).

Having had it with shitty, tiny, clinical hotel broom closets for now, I take an increasing number of recommendations for airbnb; a cute website that lets you, nosy as you like, browse strangers homes, room by room in some cases with photos of said inhabitant to boot, so you can judge them and their abode. Yeah, it’s proper addictive. Being an airbnb newbie, there seems to be a certain understanding between owner and prospective dweller that I don’t quite get at first, brashly clicking BUY before having a friendly chinwag with the owner first, it appears these guys like a spot of pillow talk. I wise up and third attempt sees me with a studio apartment right on Rue De Belleville, staggering and stumbling distance from the party location.

What I hadn’t factored on was how utterly I’d fall in love with the neighbourhood and hence this rather long post.

Arriving on the Eurostar early Thursday evening with over-plump rucksack (no I’ll never learn), laptop bag and clutching exacting instructions from Mo, my new landlord, I approach the Metro with a furrowed brow, ready to face battle…..and exit somewhat bemused; what a simple and effective little system it is, making our underground look like an overcomplicated beast determined to ravish and upset the unsavvy. Mo hands over keys, shows me where the rice cooker is, ‘feel free to eat the lettuce and yoghurt’ etc etc (clearly he doesn’t understand how intensely I’ll be throwing myself into Parisian culture – I plan to exist purely on baguette and cheese non?!) and leaves me to run amock in his tiny studio for the next five nights. A surreptitious peer through window nets reveals a plaque to Edith Piaf on the building opposite; oh the romance.

Keen to explore, as I always am in somewhere so unfamiliar, I take to the streets for an evening amble, making sure to pick up provisions first for a carpet picnic when I get back. Provisions clearly, in this instance, translating as baguette, cheese, butter and wine. Mo has kindly left me a bottle of Cotes du Rhone, so I set about gathering the other elements of my feast, heading upwards along the winding rue.

Now, the road seems to be a tale of two distinct halves, an abundence of faintly dodgy looking mini supermarkets, off-licences, kosher bakers, fascinating looking tiny lebanese restaurants and street roasted corn from where I am and down, and twisting upwards it suddenly turns into the more traditional French ideal. There’s always truth in cliches and the top part of Rue de Belleville is every french one I can think of; I immediately pass a shrivelled old man, face weather beaten, cradling an armful of baguettes, a woman coming in the opposite direction tears hungrily into hers as she walks back from the bakery, I can only assume it’s so good she can’t wait to get it home. My cheese shop of dreams, shelves heaving  under the strain of everything from the mildest and obscurest goats cheese to the most offensive, stinkiest oozing number, and it appears in multiples just on this street. I select a 36 month old Comte that’s every bit as tangy caramel as I could hope to dream of, with the crunch of little tyrosin crystals, and a trashy truffle flecked Gouda for fun, along with a super creamy, unpasteurised, demi sel butter.

Pretty much every third shop or so is a boulangerie of varying standards, not that I’m sure what to look out for at first though a surly french assistant seems to be a fairly safe start, stuffed with all manner of breads and sweet temptations. I have a brief moment of panic when I try to figure out quite how I’m going to be able to squeeze one of each variation into my five day eating plan.

Hmm, I’m frowning again.

Remembering David Labovitz’s advice on Twitter, I continue onwards to shop number 140 where I’m told I’ll be able to find some of the very best croissants and baguettes in all of Paris. A fine claim indeed. I’m initially overwhelmed, lingering at the back of the queue, trying to figure out which bread stick is ‘the one’, as there’s more variations than I’ve ever come across lain out before me, including those that are twisted and spiked in a most unusual and confusing manner. Relief washes over me when I spot the beasties in baskets at the back (or at least I think I got the right one). It seems remiss not to pick up one of the kouign aman pastries while I’m in there; a remarkable caramelised, buttery, sugary swhirl of pastry that must surely be AT LEAST 2 million kcals a pop.

I pass rotisserie chickens galore dripping juices onto mounds of potatoes below, smelling like heaven, and slope into one of the many supermarkets and loiter down isles, eyeballing foie gras next to regular packets of ham, prodding unnusual packets of sweets and cakes and emerging with a bottle of Diet Coke for the fridge. Essentials and all that.

An hour or so mooch that takes me up and down winding roads, down to the canal and over bridges, along roads that make no sense to my head yet, no points of interest established to plot and form a mental map. Tired, weary and hungry I trail back to my apartment, devour that bread that tastes like it must be the best baguette in the whole world, crisp crust that tears and splinters open to a chewy and airy interior, I spread with butter thick enough to take a good dentists impressions. Washing it all down with my gift of wine, I just about manage to force down my sticky pastry too, glistening with butter and sugar. I roll over in a carby stupour and sleep WELL.

The following day I make it up to The Cafes Belleville roastery, literally just around the corner from where I’m staying, for a nosy and to say hi to David, who owns the space, along with Thomas of the gorgeous Ten Belles and Anselme. They’re currently perfecting their roasting and already supply a number of cafes in the area including Ten Belles, HolyBelly and KP Cafe along with a couple of the bars including Bones and Le Dauphin. I enjoy my first taste, made as a chemex, very nice indeed, it’s also roasted significantly lighter than any one else is currently in the area. You may think this is a brave move, but he explains that rather than trying to sell the French an espresso that’s so far removed than that they’re used to, he’s pushing filter brews, almost as a different product; surely an easier sell. The space is designed primarily to be used as a roastery, training and tasting area, but will be open on weekends to allow public to have a look around and to try the coffee.

As it’s just the right time for a spot of lunch, we decamp to a local restaurant, a regular haunt it turns out of the Cafes Belleville staff who appear to know the menu just a little bit too well. It’s not the typically French place I might have been expecting, but a tiny Chinese dumpling spot, Restaurant Ravioli. For the top of Rue de Belleville may be the French scene of my dreams, all macaron shops and cobbled winding roads but the bottom end, as mentioned previously, becomes a strange mish mash of cultures including what seems to be a kind of Chinatown before you hit Canal Saint Martin right at the bottom. Anyway, it turns out to be the perfect spot for a cheap and casual lunch over a lot of coffee chatter. We gorge on plate after plate of freshly made pork and vegetable filled dumplings, sticky, with crunchy fried bottoms which we dip into our own concoctions of chilli and soy, we make a nod to health with spicy aubergine and slithery bok choy.

The Belleville area is famous (or so Google tells me) for it’s abundance of natural wine bars but it’s not until my penultimate evening there that I stumble upon what appears to be one of the very best, Le Chapeau Melon, just a heartbeat from my apartment, and in that flukey way of things, it’s where the Belleville launch party ends up after we’ve christened the roastery with a few beers. Just a tiny shop with a handful of tables to enable customers to enjoy some modern French cuisine whilst sampling some wine (there’s a set menu when I visit), it has the feeling of being sat in a friends dining room, and I’ve noted it for a return visit for dinner. The walls are lined with bottles and the charming staff help me pick a stunning white to drink with my Comte, it zings against the rich sweetness of the cheese as suggested. When I return as a guest of the party the following evening, I’m able to taste more of their selection whilst tucking into a formidable spread of charcuterie and bread.

As already noted, some of the local boulangerie’s appear better than others, but all had their versions of the famous religieuse, and myriad other pastries and patisserie. I actually ignored the more upmarket, fancy looking boutiques on the road in favour of the rustic, traditional and neighbourhood looking ones, whether that was a mistake or not, I’m not sure but when Jeff de Bruges was one of the sleeker looking names, I was put off. My favourite of those I tried was a little pistachio iced, slug like choux number with vanilla creme filling.

I did attempt to temper these days and nights of indulgence with a little exercise; most things are within a thirty minute walk, so I left the Metro for trips further afield, actually just one return trip to Coutume the other side of the river, and the Eurostar run. I also ran; a run beside the canal, though rather a lovely idea in theory, becomes a bit of a navigational nightmare in reality when trying to get there, battling through streets busy with shopping locals.

So after a frustrating first morning, I took David’s advice and hoiked my increasingly wobbly arse of doom up to Parc Des Buttes Chaumont; a breathtaking park set a little behind my street with equally breathtaking hills. Completely manmade, it includes 2.2km of paths, suspension bridge, waterfalls and towers. I join a throng of like-minded French folk every morning down joyful slopes and up their counterpart mountains of sheer pain and death, to complete a couple of laps. It’s worth mentioning that on the other side of the Rue is Parc De Belleville, a place for more leisurely pursuits, picnics and the like, and one of the best views over the whole of Paris.

One place that was consistently recommended to me, and by David, with an insistence I found hard to ignore, was Le Dauphin, sister wine bar to lauded restaurant Le Chateaubriand. When I realised how close it was to my proximity, literally a speedy ten-ish minute walk I reprimanded myself for not having the foresight to book, and when, on Sunday, I realised that they were closed for the next couple of days, with my impending departure Tuesday, I got that intense panic of that which is just out of reach. I couldn’t. Wouldn’t leave without a visit and just managed to squeeze in a quick lunch before my Eurostar home.

LeDauphin is a fishbowl of a restaurant, a glass casket that pushes slightly out onto the pavement. I enter the crystal cube, and although there’s no room at the solid central bar, I’m found a a small table tucked at the back, nestled between cold and shiny surfaces. From my voyeuristic vantage point, opposite a cliched romantic couple, I get the distinct feeling I’m on a theatre set; the bar is the clear focal point and I’m sure it fills rapidly of an evening, crawling with trendy young poppets. Outside this is a layer of tables with stools, then a level of lower ones, and the whole thing is encased in an uninterrupted solid, smooth and cool floor to ceiling marble that rolls all around, swallowing that bar. This cold slickness is lightened with panels of mirror that slice the cuboid room into scenes and acts, a natural light that tumbles in through glass front and the romance of candle light. The set references reinforced with giant floor dwelling flash lights and tall beaming ones that  feel like props, including trailing wire, and lend a temporary and casual air, encouraging me to sit back and watch the view.

I believe the evening menu is a steady stream of delightful small plates but for lunch theres a set main with a selection of starters and desserts. I opt for 2 courses for a reasonable 23 Euros and my waitress scuttles off before I’m able to order wine, leaving me instead with the menu, perhaps drinking at lunch is uncouth or she’s taken umbrage to my inability to utter a word of French….A tiny basket of the most incredible sourdough is plopped before me, I’m guessing from nearby bakery Du Pain et des Idees, but no butter. Despite the magnificent nature of butter in this city, they don’t seem keen to over push it, I don’t think I’ve once seen butter served here with bread, as if gilding the doughy lily would cause diners to peak too early, eyes rolling back into an irritrievable high.

My starter is a sort of, stew’s not the right word but it springs to mind, roasted vegetable salad type thing; Aubergine is deeply smokey and cut through with silky slivers of pepper and scattered with salty feta anointed with lemon zest and plenty of herbs.

I just about manage to catch my waitresses eye and order a glass of red before my main arrives. What is set before me is a pleasingly rustic and hearty dish, described to me as a sort of traditional Basque style stew; veal mince and rice are lifted with parsley in a rich and wonderfully savoury tomato sauce, an egg yolk sits poised in it’s cup ready to enrich further. Satisfying.

Aside from the service wibble, I entirely adore Le Dauphin, it’s everything I love about my favourite places back in London; simple, relaxed and informal but with charm and class, a bar to eat at and a distinct lack of fussiness or pretentiousness. It’s already on my list for when I return to Paris, next time for an evening visit.

I reckon I’ve got at least another couple of posts to get out of this trip I’m afraid, and you’ll be able to read about my coffee adventure in the next Caffeine Magazine, but I’ll leave you with, for now, my overwhelming wish to return. And when I do, I’ve no desire to stay anywhere other than Belleville; the perfect charming balance between traditional France with a little grime and a hint of the new creeping in.

 

 

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