Sunday, 29 June 2014

What Joanna Ate Top 3 June 2014

I’m back to my top lists.  I’m just sneaking in there with my top three for the month of June.  It’s been a bit manic this month with the impromptu trip to Brazil a few weeks ago, but I’m nearly caught up with my blog backlog, and there’s always July to enjoy the below suggestions.

Strawberries and Raspberries – It’s finally the time for the jewel-like berries grown in the UK.  Strawberries are very Wimbledon appropriate this week, but I like them in other ways apart from the usual cream.  If your strawberries have gone a bit squishy, or aren’t the sweetest, roasting is a brilliant way to intensify the sweet stickiness (perfect with pancakes/waffles/French toast).  I’ve got a bit more of soft spot for the seedy, sometimes sharp, raspberry though.  I’m using them in my breakfast overnight oats (with almond milk and sunflower seeds) at the moment, or they are great in a simple salad with lamb’s lettuce and a crumbled mild goat’s cheese or goat’s curd. 

Fischer’sChiltern Firehouse is the place to be (or try and get a table at) in Marylebone, but Fischer’s, the new place from Chris Corbin and Jeremy King (of other celebrity stalwarts The Wolseley, The Delaunay etc),  is now five minutes away on Marylebone High Street.  It’s got a classic Viennese cafe menu, and I’m sure the sleekness and polish of their other restaurants – all schnitzels or sausages for dinner, Gröstl for breakfast (a kind of Austrian hash with paprika fried potatoes, onions, bacon and a fried egg) or naughty Konditorei in the afternoon.

Broad Beans – Removing the bright green beans from the furry pods and silvery skins is a little time-consuming but quite soothing and definitely worth the effort (the skins are a little bitter/chewy).  After cooking, plunge in cold water and the skins should slip off.  My favourite way of using at the moment is mixing them with lots of sweated shallots and garlic, chopped parsley, then topping with a poached egg and shavings of pecorino.  This cheese goes particularly well with broad beans – you could also combine in a risotto, or as a simple pasta sauce with egg yolks to bind and the fragrance of fresh mint stirred through.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Granger & Co, Clerkenwell

I keep adding to my cookery book shelves (Jason Atherton’s Social Suppers new this weekend, and a long list of wants, including the Morito and Honey & Co books).  Some I just flick through and never quite get round to making anything from, others are a little ingredient spattered from lots of cooking. One of the most leafed through is Bill Granger’s Easy Asian, his style simple, fresh, all beautifully shot in the book. 

His first London post of Granger & Co opened in Notting Hill, particularly known for the rather extensive brunch offering (Granger is Australian, and Antipodeans do seem to do brunch well – see Caravan for example).  The second has just opened near me in Clerkenwell, tucked just between Clerkenwell Green and St John Street.  It’s open all day, the menu including salads, pizzas, pastas, curries and other mains.

We went for brunch one Saturday though, with almost too many options.  There are juices, interesting grains (I like the sound of the brown rice and sweet miso porridge), different ways with eggs, and Granger’s famous ricotta hotcakes.  We chose savoury – I had the broken eggs with ricotta, spinach, pine nuts and grilled sourdough (£8.50), which were more set scrambled in their skillet.  A really lovely combination with the cool ricotta and creamy pine nuts. 

E had the sweetcorn fritter, roast tomato, spinach and bacon (£13.50) – fritters are hard to get right, often ending up as rather tasteless fried lumps, but these were great, nice and crispy on the outside.  They needed the avocado salsa, but it would have been nice to have been included, rather than an extra £2.80.  But the portions are pretty generous – important if you feel a little cheated from skipping breakfast or lunch for brunch.  If you are still peckish, you can always take a look at the gleaming counter, full of biscotti, pastries, cheesecake and all kinds of other nice sweet things.

Granger & Co on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Chiltern Firehouse, Marylebone

Uniforms are a good mark of a bar/hotel/restaurant with rather impeccable taste.  Take the dapper tweed of the doormen at the Ace Hotel on Shoreditch High Street.  I went to a V&A fashion talk last Friday, with Kinvara Balfour discussing emerging/already rather emerged designers who show in London with GQ’s Dylan Jones and the British Fashion Council’s Caroline Rush.  One of the designers mentioned was Emilia Wickstead, with the accolade that even the hosts at Chiltern Firehouse are wearing her jumpsuits.

Chiltern Firehouse is definitely the hottest restaurant at the moment.  There have even been a few articles this week asking what the fuss is about, and how difficult it is to get a table, with lots of celebrity name checking (apparently lots of mentions on Mail Online, accompanying the pap shots – I’m continuing my boycotting of the ‘sidebar of shame' for the addicts out there).  It’s the first London place from André Balazs (the hotel will open shortly), after his US set that includes the likes of Chatau Marmont and The Standard hotels on both the east and west coasts.

The space is undoubtedly very gorgeous within the red brick old fire station, with a leafy outside terrace complete with giant modern fire, and the inside full of luxe textiles, flowers, and shining metal sides of the open kitchen.  Even the menu is very artful.  

But the food is just as picture-perfect (and very delicious).  Nuno Mendes is behind the kitchen, previously at Viajante in the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green (now the Typing Room restaurant).  I didn’t make it to Viajante, the menu is less experimental perhaps, but reads as a list of everything you want to eat, which is really what you want.

The first section is ‘For the Table’ – basically the best kind of snacks.  Cauliflower came as pearly white florets sat on top an earthy truffle paste (£5) and deviled cucumbers were hollowed out with spied salmon tartare (£5).  The cornbread fingers were warm and buttery, complete with a little pot of chipotle maple butter (£2) for smearing on top.

The rest is split into starters, salads and mains.  I had the steak tartare with pine nuts, chipotle and Firehouse hot sauce (£12).  I don’t know where the pine nuts were hiding, but it was a superb version – complete with dainty blobs of additions to the melting meat with teeny tiny wooden paddles to mix together.  It was made extra special with the little bottle of Firehouse hot sauce (complete with hand-written little label on the neck) – a kind of spicy, much better ketchup, and the curls of crunchy toast.  The other starter was a plate green and white asparagus with chervil and brown butter (£11), a perfect use of the ingredient.

We both ordered from the salads (large enough for mains), including a summery seared steak salad with heirloom tomatoes and carrot dressing (£20).  I had the blackened salmon salad with cavolo nero and apple (£19), the salmon nicely rare inside, with curls of crisp skin among the iron-rich leaves, tart apple and bursts of orange roe.  It was suitably virtuous, but also brilliant with a pot of their excellent French fries (perfectly crisp/salty).  

I watched other plates sail past – on Thursday the menu also included a tuna Niçoise pizzette with walnut tapenade, chargrilled Iberico pork with turnips and a broad bean salad with jersey royals.  Desserts were skipped, but sounded equally fabulous.  Service is perfectly judged too, not stuffy but very attentive.  Prices are definitely not the eye-watering kind of lots of celeb favourites either. 

Back to the uniforms – the jumpsuits are indeed wonderfully chic (dark teal/blue-ish, slashed down the back).  Maybe not the most comfortable of work outfits.  But that’s not really the point.  Chiltern Firehouse is completely sleek and polished.  It’s not all style without substance though, as it is a great place to eat.  I’ll really be back to try more of Mendes’ food (albeit with the beautiful people).  That’s if I can wangle a table any time this year.

Chiltern Firehouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 19 June 2014

On The Roof with Q (at Selfridges), Bond Street

There are a few London roofs for soaking up the sun, often completely crammed.  My tip for this summer in London is to head to the roof of Selfridges.  It’s a bit of an astro-turf oasis at the moment, with Q Grill hosting their pop-up bar/restaurant for the first 18 weeks of ‘On The Roof With…’ at the top of the iconic store (which started last month).

It's rather cute, a little greenhouse-like with all the pots of plants and creepers.  They are open all day, including afternoon tea and breakfast, complete with rather abstemious sounding juices.  I think it’s a 2014 rite of passage to try a potentially sludgy purple or green juice including virtuous vegetables.

From the mains I had the herb roasted salmon with summer vinaigrette (£17.50) which was a fresh tangle of pickled carrot, beetroot, broad beans and leaves – light and delicious.  K had the chicken paillard with asparagus and salsa verde (£14.75), just as summery.  The sides were great, including their house slaw, griddled courgettes and smoked cheddar spelt with chorizo (a little like a gooey macaroni cheese with the nutty grain in place of pasta).

The sky was brilliantly blue when I went this week, so after sitting alfresco for lunch, I had one tanned cheek and one tanned shoulder.  I just need to go back soon to even it out.  Definitely worth escaping  the madness of the current sale in Selfridges below for a little rooftop calm.  They even have a covering when the inevitable rain comes too.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Brazil - São Paulo & Rio de Janeiro

I got back from days in Brazil earlier this week.  A little last-minute, with flights booked on the Wednesday afternoon, jetting off to São Paulo first thing on the Sunday.  I came back just before the World Cup opening ceremony, leaving behind lots of yellow and green flags everywhere and Metro strikes, ready for the football madness to begin.

Ipanema Beach (Rio)
You may be glued, or you may be avoiding the football, but either way, it’s maybe the time for a little reading on Brazilian food.  I stayed in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, so this is by no means exhaustive of the country and its eating, but gives a flavour. 

Some key learnings from Brazil to start you off:
  1. Brazilians like double, triple, even quadruple carbs on a plate.  Rice and beans is the staple of many meals, with chips often added to the mix.  Sometimes even  a pile of mealy farofa too – more to come on this below.
  2. Paying by the kilo is quite exciting.  It’s common to find places that sell by the kilo, huge buffets with a whole range of stews, meats, rice, beans, salad etc.  Pile it up, paying for how greedy you are.
  3. You don’t really pick up food with your hands.  There are dispensers of the waxy paper napkins everywhere, for picking up your toast, sandwich, coxinhas, pasteis etc.  I felt a little more Brazilian picking up my toast like this.
  4. Caipirinhas can be very lethal.  Definitely ask for the more artisan Cahaca in your caiprinha, but clearly lots of the sugarcane spirit and just muddled limes and sugar can be potent.  Four strong ones can potentially floor you.
  5. It is all very fruity.  In Rio, the juice bars offer endless juices, with the fruits artfully lined up behind the counter.  You might not recognise some, but try something new – the favourite over there might be the giant mamão (papaya).
 São Paulo (from the top of the Edificio Italiano)
Vila Madalena (São Paulo)
I started in São Paulo, a vast city – go up the Edificio Italia in the Centro, for views of never-ending concrete jungle.  Each area is quite distinct – I stayed in Vila Madelena, rather leafier and boho, with lots of great shops and cafes.  

Coffee Lab (São Paulo)
Coffee Lab (São Paulo)
Coffee fans should head to Coffee Lab, with their in-house roaster.  There are lots of great boteco in this area, including Mercearia São Pedro or Filial The corner bars across the city are perfect for perching for a chopp (short, very cold glass of beer) and a snack (mainly beige/fried, and therefore delicious).  There are tear-drop coxinhas, a potato croquette filled with chicken and cheese, and pasteis, crisp fried envelopes with fillings including minced meat, palm hearts and cheese.

Hotel Fasano (São Paulo)
Caipirinha at Hotel Fasano (São Paulo)
São Paulo is also home to the very swanky.  Just walk through Jardins, with the upmarket shops, enormous gated houses, dotted with very sleek modern architecture.  In the middle of shopping in Jardins, I stopped in Hotel Fasano for the most civilised caipirinhas of my trip in the buttery leather lobby.  

Mercado Municipal (São Paulo)
Mercado Municipal (São Paulo)
In the city, it’s also worth visiting the Mercado Municipal (you will probably get tasters of many exotic fruits thrust upon you by flirtatious Brazilians selling the stuff), and wander around Liberdade, full of Japanese restaurants. 

Feijoada (at Bar Astor, Ipanema in Rio)
Feijoada, often called the national dish of Brazil, needs a mention – a black bean and pork stew, traditionally served on Saturdays.  It’s typically made with all kinds of cuts of the pig (and sometimes beef) and smoked sausage, slow cooked with the black beans.  We had a great version in Rio in Bar Astor (the original is in Vila Madalena in São Paulo, and one of the best places for a cocktail).  It was served alongside rice, greens and farofa, the slightly strange looking beige powder.  It’s made from toasted, coarsely ground manioc flour, to have with your rice and beans in Brazil.  I think I left Brazil a little unconvinced on farofa (the texture is a little strangely gritty), but do try it – some are flavoured with bacon and other tasty things.

Pão de Queijo in La De Venda ( São Paulo)
Manioc/cassava/tapioca comes up a lot in Brazilian food.  Cassava chips sprinkled in cheese are perfect for munching with beer, and they use the flour in the Pão de Queijo (basically cheesy bread), that you find everywhere.  They can vary in tastiness, some artificially cheesy and weirdly chewy, others completely delicious – the best I tried was at the sweet café La Da Venda in Vila Madalena (spot it with the bicycle outside).

Rio juice bar
Acai with granola
My favourite meals were the Rio breakfasts.  In both Copacabana and Ipanema, you will find them on most corners.  Pull up a stool, sit at the counter, and wait for your fresh juice.  We would often have it alongside toast and minas cheese – a Brazilian cheese, with the fresh kind a little like a less-salty halloumi/ricotta.  Something oaty but very removed from my bowl of porridge were the bowls of inky purple acai – frozen, blended acai berries, which they have with granola sprinkled on top.

Coconuts on Ipanema beach
Corn on Ipanema beach
You can also get pots of the stuff on the beaches in Rio, possibly the best of beach snack destinations.  Alongside calls for ‘A-CA-IIIIII’, there are sellers of empadas (little pies), mini barbecues to grill a skewer of minas cheese, corn on the cob boiling in little carts, bags of globos (airy manioc ring biscuits), and of course the obligatory coconuts.  A brilliant place for sun-worship, people watching and eating/drinking, surrounded by the incredible mountainous backdrop, helicopters buzzing transporting the rich, and at the other extreme, the cram of favelas in the distance up the hillsides.

Hopefully this has given a little Brazilian taste.  If you do visit either city for the football or otherwise, a few other must-do things include:
  • The Museum of Image and Sound in São Paulo (with the glossy Chez Mis restaurant in the grounds).
  • The Instituto Tomie Ohtake in São Paulo, with the wavy purple/pink architecture and changing exhibitions (an impressive Yayoi Musama exhibition at the moment, and free to enter).
  • Get the cable car up Sugar Loaf mountain in Rio – go just before sunset if you can, for the spectacular sunset sky before the twinkling of lights in the darkness.  The rock at the end of Ipanema beach is also a perfect sunset watching spot – you can even buy a beer or a just shaken caipirinha on the rock. 
  • Go to leafy Santa Teresa in Rio one evening, including Bar do Gomez and Bar Simplesmente.
Sugar Loaf Mountain cable car (Rio)
View from the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain (Rio)

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Casse-Croûte, Bermondsey

A little tardy in the write-up, but I just came across my photos from Casse-Croûte on a picture trawl.  I’d forgotten about the bank holiday afternoon spent there, tucked in the corner, escaping the pouring rain in a cosy white wine fug.  It’s a short little post, while I sit here putting off finishing my rather longer Brazil write-up.

The menu at Casse-Croûte changes each day, but what we had can give you an idea.  It’s very French – the menu chalked up on the wall, with three or so options for each course.  There’s another little blackboard next to the red charcuterie slicer on the bar, with the addition of cured meats and cheeses.  We started with a plate of excellent salami and cured ham, along with a dainty criss-cross of comté cheese.

The main course included stone bass with asparagus and asparagus cream (£15.50), perfectly golden on top, a pink, flavoursome bavette steak and gratin (also £15.50), and a simple plate of beef fillet en-croute with French beans (£18.50). 

After, we shared a crème brûlée (touted as the best we had tasted – a pretty good accolade), delicious apricot tart with swirl of Chantilly and a square of squidgy chocolate fondant with tangy raspberry ice-cream (all £5.50). 

I loved its Gallic charm, with excellently executed classics (and well-priced, and of course French, wine).  Casse-Croûte is part-way up Bermondsey Street, a brilliant stretch for restaurants with José Pizarro’s Pizzaro restaurant and José tapas bar, and Zucca further up (they are also opening a pizza  offshoot called Farina next door sometime this year).  Maltby Street is also just a five minute walk away, with the charming market (lots of bunting) open at the weekend on Ropewalk.

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