Thursday, 26 September 2013

Cecconi's, Mayfair

On the opposite scale from the Polpo style of décor in Italian places in London (bare brick, brown paper menus), there are places like Cecconi’s.  The Mayfair room is all plush grassy green velvet banquettes and white linen (it’s part of the Soho House Group).

We started with lamb carpaccio, artichoke and pecorino, and a crisp plate of calamari fritti.  The mains included lovely pastas of lobster spaghetti and ricotta ravioli, and I had the fresh and light grilled swordfish, vine tomatoes and salmoriglio (the southern Italian sauce of lemon and herbs). 

I was saving myself for Honey & Co that evening (this post was a little delayed), but the other two both had the pancakes with ice-cream and cherries.  I did pinch a few of the little biscuits and chocolates that came with the coffees – the mini biscotti were particularly good.

We were in Cecconi’s for a work lunch on a rainy day – a very civilised break from the weather and emails for an hour or two.

Cecconi's on Urbanspoon

Monday, 23 September 2013

Puglia (lots of Trulli & Taralli)

After Milan and Lake Como, I’ve just spent another week in Italy.  This time further down south to Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. 

All of Italy is big on food, but Puglia seems even more serious about it.  The landscape is covered in olive trees, and it’s where a big proportion of Italy’s olive oil comes from, along with much of their pasta.  We stayed in a Trullo near the town of Fasano (between the cities of Bari and Brindisi), with the week spent eating very delicious things. 

The best seafood was in the harbour town of Monopoli – we went to Il Guazzetto in the old town, where we had melting little gnocchi with prawns, tomato and basil, and delicious twisted pasta with cubes of swordfish, rocket and scamorza (smoked mozzarella).  Osteria Perricci in the town is also supposed to be very good if you are visiting, but was shut on the day we were there.

Another evening, and an excellent homely meal at Osteria Piazzetta Garibaldi in Martina Franca, with antipasto, followed by tagliata di manzo (steak with rocket and parmesan).  If you do, seek out the cardoncelli mushrooms, a speciality of the area – they were absolutely deliciously meaty here, especially in all the olive oil.  Come to think of it, I think a lot of Italian food tastes great as it has plenty of olive oil and salt in it – even the passata comes ready salted.

The most special meal was at Masseria Il Frantoio – there are a number of these farms dotted about the region, where you can stay and eat.  The evening started with a tour, including the gardens where they grow all the produce, followed by the 9 course meal.  More Puglian specialities including mashed fava (broad) beans alongside mussels with herbed breadcrumbs, and the best melanzana parmigiana I’ve tried, made with white aubergines (with none of the bitterness or seeds of the usual purple kind).

There are fabulous pasticcerias to be found in every town, with a beautiful range of little biscuits, many full of almonds, squidgy and marzipan like.  You just have to try and not eat the whole golden cardboard tray carefully wrapped and beribboned, in one go.  Pasticceria Natale in Lecce (just off Piazza Sant'Oronzo) was one of the best, with excellent ice-cream too (try the walnut or pine nut).

The pasta of Puglia is definitely the little ears of orecchiette – it has a lovely bite to it, and I cooked it in a simple tomato and pecorino sauce.  You will find bags of this in every deli or tourist shop of the region, in various shades of colour.  Search out some Puglian burrata too – the pearly white balls of cream and mozzarella.  Apparently Puglians eat one each, and scoff at the northern Italians who share one between five.

Last, but not least, a mention for the taralli found in most bakeries and bread baskets in Puglia.  They are little bread dough rings, made with olive oil and white wine, and plunged in boiling water before baking.  They range from crunchy to very short, and are often flavoured with fennel seeds (my favourite), or other herbs and chilli.  I’m searching out a recipe for these to re-create, so keep an eye out – they make the perfect aperitivo snack (especially with an Aperol spritz). 

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Workshop Coffee, Clerkenwell

Workshop Coffee apparently has some of the best coffee in London (I don’t actually drink the stuff – I could try and make myself like it, but can probably do without a caffeine addiction).  They roast their beans in their Clerkenwell branch (they also have a smaller coffee bar in Marylebone), which you can also buy to take home. 

The bigger Clerkenwell outpost has a pretty good brunch menu too, with lots of choice and nicely generous platefuls.  I went for the corn fritters (£11.50) with halloumi, poached eggs and kasundi (a spiced tomato relishy ketchup) and J had the baked eggs (£9.50) with roast pepper, chorizo and feta, which came piping in their little pan. 

One of my new favourite brunch spots, and definitely a place for coffee lovers to buy their next bag of beans. 

Workshop Coffee - Clerkenwell on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Honey & Co, Fitzrovia

You expect good things if it smells completely delicious as soon as you walk into a restaurant.  The lovely cooking smells wafting, and the tiny room with tables cosily tucked in, made me love Honey & Co before getting round to eating anything.

It’s run by an ex Ottolenghi and Nopi husband and wife team – this place also has beautiful cakes on the counter, and packets of golden granola and jewel coloured jams on shelves.  The Middle Eastern menu is bold and fragrant – we started with the falafel, with sesame and cinnamon, with a little tomato, chilli, and pomegranate salad and tahini.  The kalamata olives were delicious – soft and served at room temperature, which made such a different rather than those too fridge-cold.

We then shared a couple of mains – the first the Royal Mansaf; tender slow cooked lamb in soft, buttery saffron rice, almonds and plump golden raisins.  The other was cauliflower schwarma – a mixture of florets of the vegetable with Romanesco, tahini, sticky slow-cooked red onion and herb-crusted crispy pitta – great textures, and fresh way to use the often forgotten cauliflower.

In the evening they also do a dinner set with the mezze and main course – the mezze was a combination of pickles, courgette dip, falafel, fig with goat’s cheese etc, and looked great.  We just didn’t have space for all this, a main and dessert, and it was definitely worth saving space for the sweet things. 

The pistachio cake with roasted plums and sour cream was warm, moist and properly nutty.  The cheese cake was completely inventive and the most delicious I’ve tried – much better made up of crisp Kadaif pastry on the bottom, rather than the claggy, soggy biscuity type of cheesecake.  I asked, and the dollop on top was a mixture of mascarpone, honey, and surprisingly a non-salty feta – rich and beautiful with the white peach and Greek oregano.

In terms of drinks, they have a small, well-chosen wine list, along with home-made cordials and tea infusions.  The service was really warm, and the toilet is extra-sweet – like a little outhouse from a sunnier place (really just on the middle floor of the building near Warren Street).  The food is really good value, and it would be a great place to pop in for tea and cake one afternoon.

There will also be a Honey & Co cookery book at some point soon – definitely one to add to my library (especially if the cheesecake recipe’s included).

Honey & Co on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Pizza Pilgrims, Soho

It probably wasn’t the wisest idea to sit near an extremely hot pizza oven on the last hot day of the year (on Thursday before it rained).  But the seats on the top floor (ground level) were the best for Soho people watching.

The great pizzas distracted us from the heat – they are Neapolitan style, with a nicely concise choice of toppings.  We went for one with nduja (the squashy, fiery Calabrian sausage), and one with fennel sausage and wild broccoli (no tomato) – both lovely combinations, and kept simple with great ingredients. The dough is the right combination of crispy, a little blackened, and softly chewy.

Menu courtesy of their website

We didn’t have room for anything else, but there are a few non-pizza items (I’d like to try their Panzanella), ice-cream from Gelupo, and a Nutella pizza ring (anyone who thinks that sounds strange needs to try – I was converted after Polpo’s Nutella pizza with praline).

Pizza Pilgrims started as a street food van (with mobile pizza oven - still going strong, along with a recent cookery book), after travelling round Italy to discover the art of pizza making.  It’s lovely to see an independent pizza place in a sea of Italian chains around London.  After escaping to the cool street, I forgot to take any more photos or leave a tip (I’M SORRY), but the service was really friendly, and it’s excellent value, with most pizzas around £9.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Zetter Townhouse, Clerkenwell

I’m definitely not pretending to be a critic, or even a reviewer, with this blog.  I read a lot about restaurants, bars, cafes, and visit quite a few too, along with knowing a bit about what works and what doesn’t.  But this blog is more about my tips on where to go, or information on new places, for a little more exciting eating and drinking in London 

I really want to like places.  I don’t ever want to criticise.  But there’s nothing worse than being disappointed, especially if it’s a venue you love. It was therefore such a shame that brunch at the Zetter Townhouse was a little disastrous.

It’s one of my favourite bars in London – the cocktails are fabulously inventive and delicious, and I love the over the top décor with lots of velvet, eclectic art and bizarre stuffed animals.  It started so well with really excellent virgin and bloody Marys – the horseradish vodka in the boozy one was great.  My pea pancake with poached egg that came was tasty, if a little small.

But the problem was that very difficult dish of…boiled eggs.  The first were solid (no dipping for the soldiers) – after sending them back, the 2nd, and 3rd were raw inside.  We gave up on the eggs after that, and went home to boil some ourselves (5 minutes usually does it for me).

We were polite in sending back, and they gave the hungry and egg-less R a couple of free bloody Mary’s.  But it was a real shame they didn’t offer us a little more than that to rectify the disrupted brunch with rather a lot of egg trauma. Even though I wanted to love their brunch, this made it a little impossible.

So, my tip is definitely to go there for excellent cocktails, but maybe pick another place for your eggs the morning after.

The Zetter Townhouse on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Roasted Strawberries with Coconut French Toast

It’s now September, with all the autumnal produce on its way.  Rusty apples will replace bright pink berries soon, but as there are a few British strawberries still on sale, I thought I’d share one of my favourite ways of using them.

Roasting strawberries is a great way of cooking with the fruit, making them really sweet and sticky (especially if they are a little sad and lacklustre from the supermarket).  I drizzle with a little honey to help with the sticky, almost caramelised, outside.

I was also left with half a box of dessicated coconut, so decided Sunday brunch would be coconut French toast.  I also used coconut milk instead of normal, and squidgy brioche rolls for a bit more indulgence (bread would work too). 

Roasted Strawberries
1 small punnet strawberries (hulled)
1 tbsp runny honey

Coconut French Toast (Serves 2)
4 small brioche rolls (or slices)
2 eggs
100ml coconut milk
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
30g dessicated coconut
1 knob butter

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180c
  • Put the hulled strawberries in a roasting tin, and drizzle over the honey – place in the pre-heated oven, and bake for around 30 minutes until sticky and soft (but still keeping their shape)
  • While they are cooking, whisk together the eggs, coconut milk, sugar, dessicated coconut and vanilla extract before adding the brioche, and pressing down so it is covered in the mixture
  • Leave to soak for around 5 minutes, and just before cooking melt the butter over a moderate heat until melted (you may need to use two pans, depending on the size)
  • Fry the brioche halves for a few minutes, until golden and crispy, before turning over and cooking the other side
  • Serve with the roasted strawberries and a blob of Greek yoghurt