Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Simple Sourdough Pancakes

Other twenty somethings might be acting all grown up with pets/houses/engagements.  But my responsibility currently consists of my sourdough starter.  A Tupperware box of grey, sticky goo, with a rather strange smell.  It just needs feeding every fortnight (before being used for baking something).  A bit like a very low maintenance pet.  Rather less response, apart from helping deliver bread. 

Since my introduction to sourdough course at Borough Market's Bread Ahead, I've been baking loaves.  Kind of with varied success.  Anything made with fully white flour has the lovely open texture and slight sour tang, complete with dark golden chewy, crunchy crust.  Anything with much wholemeal/rye/spelt has been rather solid and brick-like.

So I don't feel I have quite mastered the art.  In the meantime, I'm sharing a simpler recipe for sourdough pancakes.  If you have a sourdough starter already, you can just scoop out a spoonful.  If not, it's easy to make.  Just mix 50g flour (a hardy kind like rye is best) with 50ml of water in a tub - leave it out, not airtight, then repeat the process for five days.  It should be bubbly and smell fermented.  Then just store in the fridge (with a lid this time), ready to use. 

For one person, whisk together 50g of the sourdough starter with 40g spelt flour (my favourite), 50ml full-fat yoghurt (I used goat's), one egg and a splash of olive oil or spoon of melted butter.  A little more oil or butter in a medium-heat pan, then fry spoonfuls until starting to show little air bubbles, and flip (this quantity will make 3 or 4 squat small ones in a pan), until golden and a little crisp. 

If serving savoury, season the batter with salt and pepper before cooking. For Sunday brunch, I topped with a mixture of yoghurt, dill, flakes of hot smoked salmon and cucumber (peeled, de-seeded and chopped smallish).

For sweet, any kind of fruit is lovely:
  • Ripe figs, ricotta, a drizzle of honey and toasted pine nuts
  • Cinnamon roasted plums with flaked almonds
  • Peaches, goat's curd and mint
  • Maple syrup caramelised apples and pears, creme fraiche and walnuts

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Hubbard & Bell (in The Hoxton, Holborn), Holborn

It’s a bit unfair to judge on a soft opening visit.  It’s the practice run.  The time to iron out any kitchen kinks, or front of house chaos.  It’s also key for feedback, to ensure everything is smooth for full opening.  So this post on the just opened Hubbard & Bell is no critique.  More just information on a new opening.  But dinner last night was very good indeed, especially for day three (even if we had paid the full prices, rather than the soft launch half price).  

Hubbard & Bell is the bar and restaurant in the just opened The Hoxton, the second outpost in Holborn (just on High Holborn, a few minutes from Holborn tube walking towards New Oxford Street). It’s from the people behind The Soho House group’s restaurants, the hotel also with a Chicken Shop in the basement (one of their mini-chains).  The all-day menu starts from breakfast until late at night, with sections of raw, cured, things on toast, meat and fish from the grill, burgers, salads etc. 

We started with deep ruby bresaola (complete with teeny, tangy pickled onions, £5), and toast piled with ricotta, fig and honey (a beautiful, classic combination, £6).  The chunky beef tartare (£9) was tender, studded with capers, with garlic crisps for scooping up. 

Next, rosy chunks of duck in agrodolce sauce (£14), with delicious sides of truffle fries (hot, crunchy, salty, mustiness of truffle oil, £7) and chargrilled leeks, the long folds topped with caramelised onions (£5).  We also shared a plate of scampi – not the battered kind, the butterflied shellfish grilled with lots of garlic and chilli (£12).  I broke my no sugar week afterwards, properly fallen with a slice of key lime pie (£7) between us – sweet, creamy, crumbly and nicely tart. 

Hubbard & Bell is a great addition to the slight restaurant no-man’s directly around Holborn (The Rosewood/Holborn Dining Room has definitely helped).  The bar part of the front is a comfy spot for drink – it’s open until 2am most nights, and the cocktails are nicely potent.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Bocca Di Lupo, Soho (plus my version of their sweet and sour onions with anchovy)

I’d suggested Bocca Di Lupo rather wistfully for a few work lunches, with newly opened places winning instead.  Finally dinner there last week; the fabulous Italian food living up to the slightly high expectations.  Pretty much based on the greatness of their ice-cream in Gelupo, across the road on Archer Street.

The menu changes each day, across regions (labelled Roma, Veneto, Parma etc).  From the raw and cured section, first was a slice of slightly sweet, nutty pecorino with a bowl of leafy cobnuts for cracking (a really lovely combination).  There was also a plate of parma ham with the sweetest, deep red fig, and sweet and sour tropea onion with lightly smoked anchovies.  Both simple, but both utterly delicious mixtures.

Fried artichokes
From the Fritti Romani, crispy baccalà – their home-salted cod deep fried, like the very best kind of fish and chip fish, but salty through (with the firmness to the flesh that the salting gives).  The deep-fried artichokes were frilly and crunchy, a little bitter, the vegetable coming through strong. 

Orecchiette with 'nduja
Then the pasta and risotto, with three small plates shared between us.  An earthy, deeply mushroom intense fresh porcini risotto, ricotta tortelloni verdi with butter, sage & walnuts and a fiery orecchiette with 'nduja, red onion & tomato.

Spicy sausage with chickpeas
You can choose big or small for the whole menu, so shared a few of the small plates from the roast and grilled section.  This included a squidgy and mozzarella stringy aubergine parmigiana amd home-made spicy sausage with chickpeas (giant versions, and one of the nicest versions of the sometimes too bland/hard pulse).  The sides were great too – fresh borlotti beans with tomato, caponata and very moreish pumpkin and sage chips. 

Burnt ricotta and sour cherry pie
I just fitted in pudding, trying the burnt ricotta and sour cherry pie (true to the name, blackened on top, full of the creamy cheese and purple blobs of the cherry).  The three nut granite were very special – 3 glasses of nubbly, nutty granita (one pistachio, one hazelnut, one almond), each topped with a little cloud of whipped cream.

Dinner was suitably delicious and lovely for celebrating my Mum’s 60th birthday.  A  few days later I was cooking for nearly 40 on Saturday night.  Just drinks and canapes (I say just, after a day and night crammed with cooking).  Venetian was my theme, with a fridge full of Prosecco and plattters of cicheti.  The Polpo cookbook came in very handy (definitely the only Venetian cookbook on my shelf), with excellent things on bread (many cicheti are this simple).  These included rocket and walnut pesto (I think better than the usual basil kind), tuna and leek (with brandy, which really works) and the lovely mix of prosciutto, fig and mint. 

Another was inspired by the tropea onions at Bocca Di Lupo.  I guessed with the recipe (I need to investigate if it’s in their cookbook), peeling and slicing up a kilo bag of red onions into wedges, then slow, low cooking with lots of olive oil and a few bay leaves.  When tender, I added a good few glugs of red wine vinegar and a few heaped tablespoons of dark brown sugar, until it had the sweet/sour tang, before cooking for ten or so more minutes.  It worked on crisp toast, draped with a marinated anchovy (the soft, white kind rather than the little tinned or jarred dark brown ones).  Not quite as perfect as in the restaurant, but almost there.  The cicheti assembling was a little busy, so photos of the little skewers and crostini were forgotten.  But all was eaten and praised – it’s a relatively simple way to do drinks and food.  Just factor in enough Prosecco.

Bocca Di Lupo on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 13 September 2014

What Joanna Ate Top 4 September 2014

Figs - I didn't use to be very keen on fresh figs. Just childhood memories of fig roll biscuits. Squidgy and sticky in the middle, kind of crumbly outside, in the rather squashed roll shape.  I haven't had these for years, and the plump dark purple fresh kind are now a favourite. If perfectly ripe, crunchy seeds, beautifully fragrant (I love the scent of fig trees - especially Diptyque's Philosykos).  They are great in salads, paired with tangy feta or a soft goat's cheese, or with prosciutto on slices of toasted sourdough.  For sweet, they are excellent with bitter dark chocolate, roasted with honey and vanilla, or anything toasty almondy (a fig frangipane tart would be perfect).  September is perfect season for them, so look out for them now.

Pizza Locadeli - A little alliteration for somewhere to eat this month, with a pop-up pizzeria place. The beautifully plush Italian Locanda Locatelli is closed for a refurb until October, but for three weeks Giorgio and Plaxy Locatelli are running a temporary restaurant, nearby on Blandford Street.  More pared back, the menu will include wood-fired pizzas, pastas and other simple Italian dishes, with a bar upstairs.  Get in there quick, it sounds deliciously relaxed with I'm sure fabulous food, but only until the 28th September.

Mission - The couple behind the Hackney Road wine bar Sager & Wilde now have a second site in Bethnal Green (just up from the tube station).  It’s penned as a Californian wine bar and kitchen, with brunch and dinner menus (their first site is more a bar with bar snacks).  It opens proper on Monday 15th following the soft opening, and the sample menus look very good, with some rather Italian dishes (including duck pappardelle, octopus with farro, rabbit with polenta, pancetta and girolles, and bites of nduja arancini). There is of course a wide wine choice, with many by the glass (and bar snacks if you just want to pop in for a drink).

Oysters – Now there is an R in the month, the season has begun for native oysters.  I’m going to head to Wright Brothers (either Soho or Spitafields), or to the oyster bar at J Sheekey.  Just choose your garnish.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Dukes G & Tea (and a martini in Dukes Bar)

Yesterday’s G & T was a little different.  Rather G & Tea.  A dainty cup and saucer of tea-infused gin (choose between black vanilla or earl grey), with a splash of tonic syrup and a slice of lemon.  It’s part of the special afternoon tea at Dukes, tucked away in the quiet luxury of the Mayfair Hotel's rooms.

The first cup was excellent alongside the neat sandwiches, with a perfect cucumber and a fantastic coronation chicken (and I’m usually suspicious of the curry/chicken/fruit/sandwich mash-up).  Then the cake stand with a second (even stronger) cup, with the top tier including a teeny, sharp lemon meringue tart, light chocolate mousse, mini panna cotta and squidgy carrot cake.  The stars were the doughnuts below, the proper kind filled with jam, rolled in lots of lip-licking sugar, most importantly still warm.  The scones were toasty too, just not as fluffy as some, but lots of jam and clotted cream for slathering on top.

It’s a lovely (boozier) take on the classic afternoon tea.  At £35 per person, it’s not quite as much as the showier Ritz for example, but I liked the smaller rooms, and it's all a little more understated.  We weren’t at all rushed, as with extra sandwiches, just beaten by the sweet things, and a proper hot cup of tea, we were there for three or so hours.  While it’s still warm (ish), nab a table in the little covered courtyard, complete with Dukes blankets.

Then to the bar, which is more than a little famous for its martinis.  There’s a menu, but we asked for Alessandro (head bartender, sharp in his white jacket, and charming to boot) to come and suggest.  After giving him a few likes and dislikes, he came back wheeling a trolley laden with bottles and garnishes, making our drinks by the table. 

Mine was a fabulously savoury vodka martini, complete with white truffle and a shiny green olive inside.  The glasses are frozen, but no shaking or stirring, so rather strong (no dilution).  You are apparently only allowed two, which is probably safest (especially at £18+ for a martini).  A very special cocktail experience.

Dukes Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 6 September 2014

28 hours or so in Madrid

A work trip this week left me with a spare evening in Madrid.  The city still fiery hot; a bit more summer away from creeping London Autumn.

One evening was still enough for a small scale hunt for excellent tapas.  A short post, but a few of my favourites as suggestions to find delicious little plates in the city.  I headed to La Latina, the snaking Calle Cava Baja packed with bars – a good place to start. 

Sanlúcar, tucked up Calle de San Isidro Labrador, a couple of minutes from the end of Calle Cava Baja, was a brilliant find.  I asked for recommendations and went with them.  Partly because one was new to me and sounded potentially rather weird (deep-fried sea anemone), and because the other was a prawn fritter (I had spotted the crisp discs on the next table).  The waiter has said the first was quite strong (read very fishy) – he was sure I would like them if I liked oysters.  

Fried sea anemone at Sanlúca
The sea anemone were crispy outside, strangely soft inside – a little like squishy deep-fried oysters.  Definitely interesting, and tasty in moderation (a whole plate beat me).  The second, the prawns bashed out, fried into a frilly circle.  The other dish sounded too simple, but a plate of boiled potatoes, very good tuna, spring onions and lots of olive oil was beautiful.  You just need the very best ingredients, and the right touch.  All of this, with a basket of little crackers, olives and a chilly Manazanilla sherry was only about 13 euros.

My other tip is El Tempranillo, on my way back along  Calle Cava Baja. The wall behind the wooden bar lined with wine bottles, so I didn’t try and choose, just asked for a nice glass of red.  Along with a plate of sheep’s cheese (I think it was manchego).  Pretty unbeatable match (with the wine about 2 euros to boot).

Mercado de San Antón
Terrace at Mercado de San Antón
I also visited Mercado de San Antón, a modern alternative to  Mercado San Miguel, and just next to Chueca station.  Not the same bustling, beautifully gleaming food and counters, but worth a wander, and the roof terrace was a good evening drink spot, looking out onto the city.

The next day full with work, but a chance for lunch at the relatively new Otto.  It’s a beautifully golden glossy space, with excellent food.  I didn’t see the menu which was chosen, but lunch included tangy Gazpacho with salty Iberico ham, a deliciously creamy/cheesy rice dish, sea bass (I think) with sweet potato and a light cheesecake mousse to finish.  The swish bar also perfect for drinks in the Salamanca area of the city.

Soon after, back to London, writing up lists on the plane of September things to do and eat.