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.

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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.

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Arabica Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Pump Street Bakery Sourdough and Sea Salt Chocolate

This is pretty much my favourite chocolate bar at the moment.

Pump Street is a Bakery up in Suffolk. I’d been aware of them for some time, mainly as I’d heard they were producing some increasingly good bean to bar chocolate, still something of a rarity in this country. Having tried it since, I concur, it is indeed very tasty. However THIS bar is something else entirely.

I went along to the launch at The Quality Chop House shop where I was able to sample the chocolate bar (I sort of forgot to try any of their others whilst there – oops) as well as their excellent sourdough bread, the very same that they use in the bar, alongside a very complimentary red wine.

I know Paul A Young recently produced a bar in collaboration with Peckham’s Brick House sourdough. Here however, the sourdough is incorporated into the conching process itself as well as larger crumbs added later on along with Maldon sea salt; the resulting bar has the most incredible texture with that sour bread tang. It’s a bar that’s fascinating enough that I want to eat piece after piece in quick succession, the 66% chocolate is smooth and malty but texturally satisfying. I just can’t get enough of it. I detect a note of rosemary in the finish of a number of the squares from my block which causes me to think perhaps they’re odours absorbed from around the bakery.

It’s funny, as I generally don’t like biscuit/crunch anywhere near my chocolate; aside from the fun of nibbling the edges from a Kit Kat or Club, biscuit can, frankly, do one. However, it seems, like all other areas of my life, bread is a welcome addition. Who knew it would go so well with chocolate?!

In short – and I’m trying to produce some shorter posts in order to cover more of the things I want to share – get some. You won’t be disappointed!

 

 

 

 

 

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Almond Milk and Spelt Ricotta Pancakes with Maraschino Laced Cherries

I’m a sucker for cherries, so I’m in heaven that there are plump and juicy varieties in all of the supermarkets and farmers markets right now. Not that it stops me when they’re not in season, I turn to cocktails instead, demanding a cocktail cherry, not only in my Manhattans (double dosing on beauties from the Manhattans Project) and Martinez’s but all heathen-like in Negronis and martinis too; my cherry love knows no bounds. Perhaps in part due to their saucy connotations, there’s something rather seductive about a cherry pie or tart, even a simple dish of cherries and cream. Something titilating about plucking one of those pert, dark and juicy orbs from a virgin white plate. Another thing about tongues and cherry stalks.

I made little cherry and ricotta boreka pies a few weeks ago, but this time I fancied something for brunch, since I found myself working at home and stalking the kitchen as I’m known to when procrastinating. For some reason I’ve been craving ricotta pancakes. Odd, as I never fancy, or indeed eat, pancakes. But the craving has been persistent all week and so Friday lunchtime I gave in. All plain flour would have given a fluffier pancake but I love the nutty flavour of spelt, sweetened with almond rather than regular milk and yoghurt to serve for a sour contrast. With the addition of cherries and maraschino, and mahlep in the pancake to boost almond flavours further, I can’t help thinking of the classic dessert, Bakewell tart.

Serves 1, heartily (I pinched the basics of the recipe from good old Nigella)

100g ricotta

50g almond milk (The Pressery’s is raw and utterly delicious)

30g wholemeal spelt flour

20g plain flour

1 large egg

half a teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

teaspoon of mahlep powder

oil for frying

ripe cherries

sugar

maraschino liqueur

Greek full fat yoghurt to serve

Separate the egg, then in a bowl add the yolk to the ricotta and almond milk, stir to combine. Add the flour, salt and baking powder and whisk to create a smooth batter. In another bowl, beat the egg white until frothy then fold into the batter mixture.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and drop large spoonfuls in, you should get around four. Cook on each side until golden and fluffy but still a little gooey in the middle.

While they’re cooking, halve and de-stone the cherries and fry quickly in another pan with a little sugar. As soon as they’re softened and releasing their juices pour in a little of the maraschino and toss to combine.

Stack up the pancakes on a plate, add a large dollop of yoghurt and pour over the cherries and all their juices.

 

 

 

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Spoilt for Choice in Fitzrovia

Not so long ago Oxford Street and it’s peripheries was somewhere to be avoided, better left to the tourists that bung up the streets with their slow, aimless, zombie shuffle. The shopping, or anything worth shopping for at least, dried up a long time ago and is generally more comfortably dealt with online, on the whole anyway.

But what’s this?

Not one, but two of the most anticipated new cafe openings of the year so far have chosen just North of this very area to open up, historically a patch more accustomed to the depressing bilge of the coffee chain giants than anything decent. For the first time that I can recall, we’re suddenly spoilt for choice in the West End. Well ok, we’re not quite in West London territory yet, and just this little bit of it for now, but spilling down to Soho and beyond. But still! I’m not remotely discounting the marvellous job Kaffeine have done, holding the fort on Great Titchfield Street, setting a strong and steady example for as long as I’ve been remotely interested in coffee. I have a LOT of respect for what they’re doing, but there’s only so far one cafe can service and it’s inevitably busting out of it’s seams with happy customers whenever I visit.

Welcome the new guard….

Curators Coffee Gallery now sits resplendent on Margaret street, this second site feels as different as one can from it’s original, The Coffee Studio, a tiny, almost hole in the wall, city location and one I’m sad to have visited infrequently due to it’s city location and hours. This new site throws out there a starkly contrasting curve ball; a truly magnificent space, that’s so much the antithesis to the current moody fit-outs as to appear completely fresh. There’s no exposed brickwork to be seen here, no unfinished edges or rustic features, simply clean expanses and a beautiful curation of details with flourishes of greenery.

The teal of the studio has been replaced with deep aubergine, an undercurrent that runs throughout the cafe, starting as a muted mosaic tile detail and exploding in dramatic splashes as a pimped EK43 grinder and La Marzocco, then flowing unrestrained down to the basement as a dramatic purple staircase. Everything else has been kept neutral to strike a balance, the lower ground area is calm and stark in contrast, a soothing space with a simple table and chairs set up. Upstairs is more playful; a menagerie of coffee toys, small army of copper Hario kettles and scales, and a stunning dark wooden bar that’s engulfed by a flock of cubist butterfly tiles that flitter up the walls and across the floor freely. Bar design is courtesy of, regular now on the cafe build out scene, Made By Jason and his team, and it’s impressive.

Coffee is by Nude, including a special espresso blend that’s rich and viscous in texture. Actually the menu is one of the most interesting I’ve seen yet in London, a mixture of classics with not so common items like matcha latte and cold brews, with some curious sounding coffee and tea twists on punches and iced drinks. Food is worth a look in too, I had a great toasted sandwich and having seen the not inconsequential facilities downstairs, I reckon there’s scope for much more yet…

I find the space a real breath of fresh air and I believe a welcome and notable addition to the area and the coffee scene in general. There’s something of a fantastical secret garden about the cafe that’s enchanting, captivating, and I look forward to hibernating within it’s walls often.

The latest Workshop coffee bar marks number four for the brand, second this year, and in quick succession from site number three in Holburn. It causes me to raise an eyebrow as to whether this is, perhaps, the beginning of a larger roll out? At any rate, it feels like a step up for the roaster. The bar itself, and it is a bar rather than a cafe in my opinion, is my favourite of theirs so far, a real triumph of embracing the mood of their Victorian era location (something that has become their ‘thing’ along with a lack of wifi) and of function colliding exquisitely with form; it’s a polished little gothic gem.

A narrow, but long, entrance area facilitates fantastic barista customer engagement across the bar and I’m surprised and delighted to find Gareth, ex Prufrock, amongst the super friendly team. The options here are to either takeaway, linger along the bar, spill out onto the miniature forecourt or lean nonchalantly on the Victorian railings outside. Movement is organic and fluid, and the room at the back, though lovely, is for those swimming against the tide, pushing against what is a natural design led reflex, but also a great spot for an efficient meeting. There’s a strong Italian aesthetic here dictated by that style of service, designed for bar propping (though obviously not in coffee style) but also in detailed design flourishes; check the flashy accents of gold; gilt taps and inlaid seams in the counter and gorgeous decorative shelf top tiles.

I find I can’t tear my eyes from the bar itself, like a moth to a flame, I’m sucked into the gleaming granite that shimmers and sparkles with years of history, present as semi precious quartz highlights of teal that mimic the walls behind. Doesn’t appear it’s just me or that it’s that fatal, that bar appearing to act as a magnet, customers drawn to it as they enjoy their chosen beverage, chatting happily and rapt to the baristas on shift. The menu here is simple and well executed; an excellent Cult of Done espresso and aeropress made filter are as good as I’m used to from these guys.

I can see myself coming here often, for a session at that bar or, in more brooding moments, to secrete myself in a secluded nook in that quiet space at the back for a gathering of my thoughts against the tide, perhaps a spot of writing, as I fancy those creatives of the area might have done many years before now.

Mothers Milk are the badass underdogs of the speciality coffee world, in the absolute sweetest possible way, their self depreciating humour and casual attitude a foil for some of the best coffee in the area. Don’t listen to what Will and James might tell you, these guys really do know their stuff and have the funniest coffee twitter account and website to boot. Their tag line ‘serving alright coffee in an already saturated market’ probably tells you all you need to know with my pre cursor.

Hidden within the grid of Fitzrovia, on Little Portland Street, Mother’s Milk is a tiny coffee bar masquerading as Rosalind’s Kitchen; the landlord who remains owner of the property and won’t let go of her twee decor or name. I like it – that is, the juxtaposition of this pair of world weary and angst ridden baristas against confectionary pink, it tickles me. A beautifully succinct menu is produced via Victoria Arduono lever machine, thanks to Prufrock, and filter is made on an aeropress. Beans are from Munich roaster JB Kaffee and visiting is always an absolute joy. For these are not as sullen as they would have you believe and manage to effortlessly charm every customer that enters their threshold.

I love that the simplicity of the set up goes to prove you really don’t need anything more; no gimmicks or fancy fit outs, though all of that’s very nice. Here are just two very nice boys making and serving very delicious coffees in a pink cake shop, that doesn’t sell any cake.

Back to the location and there *is* coffee further out West; the second Workshop site on Wigmore Street, branches of Fernandez and Wells in South Kensington and now Duke Street, Talkhouse on Portobello Road and Taylor Street Baristas in Mayfair but they’re few and far between in comparison to the saturation we have East.

Could this be the start of an infiltration, a marked onslaught against the Starbucks and Costas for the wealth of business in the area? Or is it just coincidence?

Only time will tell, but it seems note worthy at least and I’m happy to have an increasingly rich tapestry of cafes from which to choose from in whichever part of town I happen to be in.

Anyone wanting to shake things up South of the river would be most welcome!

 

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Little Boreka Pies from the Honey & Co Book

I try to limit the number of cook books I buy these days, it’s all too easy to click the ‘buy’ button on Amazon, or to become seduced in the flesh by the heady scent of virgin pages and gloriously styled images within the latest must have. I find increasingly that my likelihood to cook from a book is inverse to the number glaring down at me from my bookshelf, piling up almost of their own accord in corners around the flat. Feeling overwhelmed with all of their collective content, it’s not unknown for me to barely glance at, not even noting recipes of interest, a book before it is placed, guiltily, out of sight. No more. I’m now frugal with my purchases and overloading of information, only giving in to those that I’m convinced will enhance my time in the kitchen and inspire within me fresh verve.

The Honey & Co book, I knew immediately, would be one of those and I’ve had it on pre-order since I became aware of it’s existence. The restaurant is one of the few that I regularly return to for it’s warmth, which radiates from passionate and lovely owners Itamar and Sarit, as well as the beautiful food itself. I spent a chilled weekend dipping in and out of the book, finding myself warm to the couple and their endeavours all over again, each chapter starting with an anecdote that is at once charming, endearing and honest. Each of the Middle Eastern recipes is designed for home, not dumbed down at all but vibrant excerpts from the heart of a happy kitchen. It’s written with such obvious love, and exuberant love of food, that I think you’d struggle not to transfer at least a small iota from the pages into your kitchen at other end. I fully expect this to become splashed and worn in the way all good cook books should, in exactly the way my Jerusalem book now looks.

I’m not a pastry lover (I know – sorry!) but for some reason the little Boreka looked like just the sort of thing I relish making. I start with their suggestion of a spinach, feta and dill filling topped with a smattering of nigella seeds but add some chopped soppressata to the mixture for a hint of meaty spice. The pastry, rich with butter and double cream, puffs up beautifully, creating a light, melty and crisp pocket for whatever filling takes your fancy really. I like the idea of wild mushrooms and cream or smokey aubergine with spicy n’duja.

I bought some plumptiously ripe cherries at Brockley Market on Saturday which gave me a good excuse to use some of the dough for a sweet twist. I macerated some of the cherries, chopped, in a little sugar, then put a teaspoon on top of a small dollop of ricotta before folding and sealing, and finishing with a sprinkle of sumac spice for a zesty bite.

I fully intend to delve more into the book over the next few weeks, and expect many of the recipes will easily slip into my own kitchen repertoire.

I bought my copy of Honey & Co: Food from the Middle East from Amazon

 

 

 

 

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Revisiting New York & Williamsburg

I forget how vast the states are and how different each of the towns and cities within it  feels. I felt it when I first visited Williamsburg last Christmas, an eery stillness I hadn’t come across before, so far removed from friendly Seattle and busy, noisy Boston. Arriving in Brooklyn, fresh from Seattle I get hints again of that blanket of quiet, like the calm before a storm. I can’t quite put my finger on the cause. I don’t know why I should expect that it’s so different to what I’m used to; perhaps in part it’s due to the expansive blue skies and sprawling sidewalks and roads, a more languid pace of life, though probably not right here, that’s so very polar to the tiny, bustling and (always in my mind anyway) green and freshly rained-on roads back at home. Pounding the wide streets of Williamsburg I’m sharply aware of each sound, as though it’s fought to break through a broad muffle, like a bullet through cotton wool; the roll and clatter of a skateboard, the sharp beeping of taxi horns, the faint rustle of leaves, the constant woosh then short rattle of the wheels that follows in line with each of my steps.

Finding myself in this still unfamiliar city, fresh off the overnight flight (sans sleep) and unable to check in until late afternoon I find comfort in the unknown familiarity of a coffee shop who’s name I’ve seen on Twitter on numerous occasions but one I didn’t get the chance to visit on my last trip. Dragging my cumbersome and growing luggage, I head towards the closest Gorilla Coffee to where I’m staying and plot at the end of it’s long bar for the foreseeable, my simple plan; to imbibe all the stimulants in my close proximity. Like a mirage, I spy Donut Plant doughnuts in the small glass counter at the shop front and quickly order lest they disappear before my eyes. I add a liquid, filter brew injection to my sugar order of Meyer lemon and poppyseed and retreat to my corner clutching WiFi gold.

Gorilla turns out to be the perfect spot to hibernate and deal with a burgeoning inbox, I don’t find the coffee perfect to my tastes but it’s certainly good enough and the atmosphere is accepting, soothingly dark against the bright outside and I’m left unbothered.

I find my Williamsburg Airbnb apartment easily enough, my second time using the fab website and I carry out what I expect will become a regular routine; methodically I check inside cupboards, look behind curtains and underneath furniture, I’m not even sure what for, anything unsavoury I guess. This is downstairs from where the owners live and I’m unnecessarily panicked by a door, locked from their side, that must be at the bottom of their stairs, and another that opens into a garden, both hidden behind curtains. I’m equally spooked by a sinister and looming boiler cupboard door that I automatically shunt my suitcase up against to contain any ghouls or the like that may have taken residence.

Feeling bairly able to hold my head up, I’m determined not to let my first, and only one of two nights here go to waste. I had met Jenny from the NYC based blog Melting Butter at an event in London’s L’Entrepot and we agreed there and then to hook up when I was in her ‘hood. Not sure where to hit up in this expansive city, I decide to stay local, not really relishing the thought of travelling, and ask for her suggestions; Reynards is her quick response and I’m endeared by the fox on their website that reminds me of a London favourite, the Talented Mr Fox. I do love a bar, this one has a rooftop one, and although I have sights on Roberta’s for pizza or Mission Cantina for Mexican, I snap at her suggestion, my rationale being that I don’t really fancy hanging around on my own waiting for a seat at either, not something I would have minded ordinarily with company.

I somehow manage to cock the whole thing up and feel like my one night out in Williamsburg was a bit of a wasted one.

It all starts so well; I walk into the handsome, glitzy room of Reynard’s within The Wythe Hotel and perch at it’s bar, faintly dazzled by the dressed-up clientele and expansive warehouse-ey room with brick walls, sky high ceilings, glamorous lights and epic windows. The menu, which is heavy with brasserie classics looks good but I fancy a drink and a nibble so order what I think is going to be a snacky cheese and greens plate, on the menu as ‘stracciatella, multigrain, ramps’. I’m not expecting and am rather disappointed to be delivered the other meaning for the sloppy Italian cheese; that being a clean tasting vegetable broth that’s very nice but not really what I had in mind.

The negroni is good as is the barman who engages in some gin chat with me as I people watch, this informal bar area leads out to a more austere dining room setting towards the back of the building. The main reason Jenny has recommended this place is that the view from the rooftop bar is supposed to be stunning. I’m afraid I never got the chance to see for myself as I have failed to bring my passport along for ID purposes (despite being served without it at the downstairs bar!).

Disgruntled, I take this second disappointment in my stride and head back to a bar that’s look and menu had caught my attention on my way up, The Counting Room, this was to prove to be my third and final mistake. Despite being fairly empty, I reasoned it *was* Monday night, I join a gaggle of others at the bar, squeezing into a spot in the corner. I order a pressed sandwich from that menu that had caught my eye, a truffled grilled fontina cheese and ham number in particular, I also order devils on horseback, just for the sake of it. The room sure looks the part but I can’t shake off a negative vibe that permeates, I select a drink and try and shrug it off. My Hide and Seek looks good on paper, a mix of Old Tom gin, Bols Genever, Campari, Aperol, Cocchi Ross, black pepper tincture and rhubarb bitters, but doesn’t quite work to my palate, the black pepper a touch too aggressive. My toastie is depressingly cardboard like, the dates at least are good. I think my chagrin is due mainly to the disinterested lack of engagement from the barman which really feels like it lets the place down, maybe it’s better at weekends. I’ll never know….

I shuffle off with my tail between my legs, popping into a supermarket on the way to Instagram weird and wonderful American snacks. As you do….

Rising late, and tired, I’m determined today will be better. I grab a caffeine fix at so so Gimme Coffee and entirely confuse myself trying to find the correct subway line at a single station name which has two completely different locations on opposite ends of the same, lengthy road….confusing much?! I finally make it to the bottom of East Village and wander up to Box Kite on a number of recommendations. It’s the best cafe I visit on this trip; small and unassuming, unpretentious, unfancy and warm, and staffed entirely by girls on my visit. It’s simple done very well indeed and the coffee is excellent; I have a Madcap espresso that is served with a tiny biscuit on the side. I quiz the barista on good spots to eat in the neighbourhood and generally gather myself together.

I nearly try somewhere new, nearly, but in the end can’t resist the Momofuku noodle bar as I walk past, then quickly back again. It’s relatively late in the afternoon and I easily get a seat at the bar. Curiosity has me ordering ‘nugget’ potatoes from the section of the menu labelled Spring and they arrive in a bowl, the potatoes crushed and fried with beetroot, soft onion, pine nuts on a smear of yoghurt. It’s a dish I’d make at home. I umm and aghh over a couple of the mains, swinging between a special of pork belly, something that does sound pretty special, and a spicy dish that encourages warnings from the waiter. Spicy wins, I want fiery heat and this noodle dish, that is alarmingly hidden beneath giant mounds of honeyed cashews, shizuan spiced sausage and spinach, is mouth tingling but not overly so, and the abundant chilli oil makes the spinach a touch too oily for my liking. It’s a bowl so generous I uncharacteristically actually leave some, worrying that I’ll never make it on to dinner, no matter how late, otherwise.

I’ve arranged to meet Jenny for a coffee and enjoy a big mug of batch filter Stumptown at Third Rail while we catch up. Another meh, if I’m honest. The coffee not the chatter. The chatter prompts us to move the conversation on to cocktails, where she guides me over to Angel’s Share, an actual speakeasy style bar, through an undisclosed doorway, and past a Japanese casual dining joint. The bar itself is tiny and feels a little like an ornate balcony with windows over looking the East Village and watched over by a mural of angels; it’s all at once faintly exotic and naughty with an air of faded opulence. We sit at the end of the bar and both order a whisky based cocktails that is presented in a cloud of heady smoke, a second is slightly less successful as I don’t like that aggressive cinnamon flavour the Americans seem to love, forgetting momentarily they don’t treat it in the same way as us Brits. A snack of chicken meatballs with a very soft egg as a dip is a delicious revelation.

It turns out what’s supposed to be a date night between Jenny and her fiancé has been hijacked by the presence of his best friend, this suits us perfectly as gives me an excuse to join them. We decide on Navy, a hip new restaurant in SoHo which doesn’t have a table until around 9pm but works out well, as we drink wine until we’re ready to make a move, then loiter at the bar with cocktails when we get there. A closer inspection of the cocktail menu, heavy on sherry and vermouths, reveals zero spirits, apparently this is not uncommon in newer spots due to heavy liqueur licensing laws. My Lower Manhatten, a mix of Fino, cream sherry, Antica Formula and barrel aged bitters is very drinkable and doesn’t suffer overly from the lack of gin (I would have liked gin) and I LOVE the ice crusher that sits aat one end of the raw bar; a hand operated, be-wheeled beast. Once seated, between the four of us, we pretty much manage to order the full menu, which although billed as a seafood restaurant that reinforces the ‘navy’ theme of its moniker is easy for me to navigate.

Fried sweetbreads with mustard mayo and cubed radish are addictive as is a little vegetable dish of mushrooms and fiddleheads with yoghurt. Tiny crispy gnocchi with charred ramp and a poached egg would make a perfect brunch dish and a sharing plate of sliced pork chop with preserved peach and chicory is a real triumph for feasting. The only disappointments are the bread, no artisan stuff here, just a strangely thick slice of brioche and the desserts don’t really enthral us either.

Everything about Navy is so Polpo it could be straight from Russell Norman, though I suppose this is meta for me as my reference point for the inception of this style is a bit inverse. The night finishes messily in a dive bar where I force them to make me Negroni’s and feed the juke box an endless selection of Seattle favourites much to the chagrin of the younger patrons.

I awake the following morning with the hangover of absolute doom and attempt to drink it under at Blue Bottle Roastery, I love the space here and the two filter mugs I sink are excellent but don’t sufficiently do the job alone, so I shuffle along to Egg at the recommendation one of the baristas. I’m expecting a small and trendy, ramshackle, dude food (urgh) type brunch spot, so am somewhat taken aback by an elegant and clean white interior that’s calming and serene, with a menu I can’t begin to do justice in my fragile state. I order a special of pork belly hash that’s frustratingly delicious, a dainty plating again where I’m expecting dirty great portions, but I’m able only just to tentatively nibble my way through half before giving up entirely.

Fool. I disappoint myself sometimes quite frankly.

I flee (slowly and painfully) to the airport in torrential rain with a growing list of places I still need to return; Booker and Dax for creative cocktails akin to those made at The Talented Mr Fox and Peg and Patriot utilising similar distillation and clarifying processes; Death & Co and Dead Rabbit for more cocktails; The Cleveland for brunch and aforementioned Mission Cantina and Roberta’s.

No doubt I’ll be back before too long…

 

 

 

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