A weekend of food

It was a fun week.

THURSDAY – I was invited to Taste to see Rene Redzepi from Noma. As the chef at restaurant voted San Pellegrino’s Best In The World for the past two years running, he’s kept pretty busy. During the Q&A he said that he doesn’t get to cook at home often, but when he does, he really makes an effort. He said it’s just as important to cook for those you love, when you’re a professional. Cooking for those you love is the essence of having a restaurant, he reckons. (that made sense to me at the time…)

He’s not looking to expand his empire at the moment either, but to continue to innovate at Noma. Building a team up again, and developing the level of knowledge and research they have in Copenhagen somewhere else isn’t on his agenda right now. Bless him, he seemed fairly knackered so I can’t say I blame him. Or maybe public speaking isn’t his thing and he’d sooner be in the kitchen? BTW among the restaurants he rates in London is St John’s, singled out for praise.

THURSDAY PT II was Pigfest at the Drapers Arms, my first visit there. I was starving on arrival and frankly, the second (yes, I know) Scotch Quail’s Egg was a mistake, in hindsight. It robbed me of the ability to properly appreciate the four other courses that were to come. On another day, though, I think I’d go straight for the motherlode of a bigger portion of belly and caramel-like crackling and skip the other courses, interesting as they were.

FRIDAY I was back at Taste to go and see Union Hand Roasted Coffee (who I work with) and to meet up with a lovely crowd of bloggers for a quick food pit stop and some coffee tasting. It was buggeringly cold and wet out, unfortunately. We tried syphon, pour over and Aeropress brewing methods, and the coffees included the geisha microlot from Columbia which is really rather special. Kudos to those who made it out in the rain.

SATURDAY brought afternoon tea in the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot – a friend’s father is a member of the Royal Household, which is what my badge also proclaimed me to be for the day (scullery maid, perhaps?) Serious fun in a silly hat, having a flutter, picking three winners (by the jockey’s colours, mainly) and scoring 5/6 on a £9k accumulator pot, weep… I have to say, it was one of the best chocolate brownies I’ve ever had. Fudgy frosting and a distinct hit of hazelnuts – possibly ground, for the batter. The mini Victoria Sponges defeated us.

SUNDAY  – Grazing Asia is the brainchild (food baby?) of four talented lovely people. Last Sunday was their inaugural outing, hosted by Danny from Jamieoliver.com at Fifteen in London. It’s a great idea, to bring four different upbringings and culinary traditions together, namely Japanese, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Burmese, plus they were generous enough to put their first menu together to help fundraise for Fifteen’s NYC Marathon team. With help from magical Twitter sponsors the day contributed over £1200!

I hope they manage to find as lovely a space for their next event as Fifteen – tons of photos here and on Uyen’s post, sadly I only captured three of the dishes: above are Luiz’s light citrussy Seared Tuna with Yuzu Ponzu and Sesame Dressing; Mimi’s crunchy texture-filled Spicy Burmese Fishball Salad and Uyen’s utterly comforting, flavourful Baked Crispy Pork Belly with Banh Cuon, Pickled and Fried Shallots, Vietnamese Cured Ham, Thai Basil and Coriander.  I tell you, I would have eaten buckets of each dish, laden with mysterious (to me) ingredients, fresh herbs, exciting combinations. Keep an eye on their website to see when the intrepid foursome are “opening” to the public as this first even was by invitation/donation to Fifteen.

MONDAY –  I went on a diet. I am likely to remain here for some time.

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Food Blogger meet-up at The Chiswick Moran

Who fancies a night out in West London? Savour Chiswick is happening next month, and the Chiswick Moran Hotel have offered to host a food bloggers meet-up (#wldnbloggers), much like the ones we’ve done in the past.

Date: Friday 1st July

Time: 6:00pm for complimentary cocktail reception to launch the festival; 7:00pm for BBQ.

Cost: £30 per head including 1/2 bottle of wine

We’ll be out on the Napa Terrace (with contingency plan to move into the restaurant if the weather is as rubbish as it has been lately) and they’ll be serving dishes from the summer menu, below.

Chiswick Moran Hotel, 626 Chiswick High Road, London W4 5RY

Nearest Tube: Gunnersbury on the District line. Exit station left, walk straight up along Chiswick High Road for approx 400 metres and the hotel is directly opposite.

FRESH FISH

Skewered Tiger prawn, chorizo & pepper salad

Squid & crispy pork salad, pickled vegetables

Flamed whole sardines & baby mackerel, brushed with lemon grass & chilli butter

Grilled red snapper with Thai green papaya salad

Half or whole grilled lobster, mixed leaves & chips

Fish feast to share – Grilled lobster, tiger prawns, baby squid, sardines & red snapper, hot garlic butter, salad & chips

PRIME MEATS

Flamed Toulouse & chorizo sausage salad

Spatchcock baby chicken rubbed with cracked black pepper & garlic butter

Steaks: 19oz T-bone steak / 8oz Rib eye steak / 8oz Sirloin steak

Meat feast to share – Barbecued whole rib of beef & marinated chicken breast, coated with grilled chorizo & Toulouse sausage butter

The best of meat & fish, share with the whole table – Whole rib of beef, whole barbequed lobster, king prawns, squid & Toulouse sausages, big bowl of chips & salad

SWEET

Barbequed brioche, sweet chilli pineapple with crème fraiche

The Charles Lamb, Islington

It’s a curious thing. Mention the Charles Lamb to anyone familiar with Islington and you get one of two reactions. It’s either an immediate grin and an ‘omigodilovethatplace’, launching into stories of sneaky after work pints and lazy weekend lunches, or blank. Nothing. 

To those of you in the latter camp, you really should give the Charles Lamb a try. It’s tucked away behind Angel but utterly removed from the madness of Upper Street.

We went in on a Saturday – the obviously named Map room (also known as the Cheese room, as the lead glass window once served as a shop front from which cheese was sold) and the bar itself were empty when we arrived as everyone sat outside in the sunshine. We walked around reading the art works, lots of typography pieces including some from New North Press, and Steven Kenny’s Please Don’t Feed Mascha signs.  They refer to the resident dog, whose art dealer owners have curated the wonderful collection on the walls. I liked the magnifying glass provided to properly examine the map of 1890s London poverty.

Darren, the very affable manager, talked us through the menu of the day and also told us a little more about their suppliers. They buy locally (including Exeter St Bread and McKanna Meats)  and seasonally as much as possible – many of the vendors they use call them on a daily basis to tell them what’s been caught or is good that day and they plan menus accordingly. As a result, the menu changes frequently and it’s a ‘first come first served’ mentality but their bar menu has some constants too. 
I started with a Fentiman’s Ginger beer as we were hot and sticky after the walk there, and the boy went for that traditional hangover vanquisher, the Bloody Mary. Turns out they liven it up with a dash of Caol Ila, which got the thumbs up – can’t bear tomato juice myself.
 
We started on foccacia with a delicious fruity olive oil, waiting for the first course. The Chicken liver pate from the bar menu was a very generous portion, and when we cracked the disc of buttermilk coloured fat on top there was warm, unctuous, velvety pate waiting underneath which came with heaps of cornichons and wedges of toast.
 

I went for the Raw candy beetroot, mint and feta salad (£6.50) while the boy ordered the Salt beef sandwich (£8) which had tongues of translucent pickle slices hanging out the side, and thick slices of juicy beef. The plan was to divide and share as usual but I found myself hanging on to the salad – this sort of thing doesn’t normally happen. The boy had a pint of the rather good Harviestoun Schiehallion to go with it – it won Best pilsner 2010 and was hoppy, rich, reminded me of a San Francisco craft beer.

We were persuaded into desserts, the pannacotta was particularly popular and when it arrived it was a full wine glass with glorious speckles of vanilla bean showing through. It emerged that I still hate pannacotta but I wouldn’t have been able to wrestle it away from the boy anyway and he really wouldn’t have had a look in at my frangipane tart with the sharpest imaginable red fruit coulis on top, which cut the sweetness perfectly.
When we were in there, a couple of lost tourists who’d presumably come up from the nearby Regent’s Canal came in and asked what local beers they had.  Darren replied  almost innocently ‘Well, pretty much everything in here is local’.    Then a woman came in saying she was looking for ‘Daniel and Charlie’ – Darren said he hadn’t seen them yet. Turns out she was referring to one of the regulars and his spaniel. We quizzed him about whether they do private hire (at the time we were looking for a pub to hold a party after our wedding) and he explained that as they are a local pub, and in a residential area, they only close the pub for regulars or neighbours. That way, he explains, if someone asks why they were closed on Wednesday night, he can say ‘Oh, No 15 were having a birthday party’ which is acceptable apparently.  All I can say is, Elia St and its nearby residents are very lucky indeed.
Thanks to Hannah at Story PR for arranging for us to visit.

Charles Lamb
16 Elia Street
Islington N1 8DE

José

On the eve of the opening of José Pizarro’s eponymous new space, the man himself was good enough to throw open the doors to a bustling crowd and invite us down to sample the wares.

I think everyone has already described the space as ‘cosy’ – and that’s as much down to the service and the atmosphere as the bijou size of the place. It seats seventeen covers apparently, and the house speciality is small sharing plates. We guzzled gazpacho (given that I’m not a huge tomato fan, this even took me by surprise) and tussled over tortilla, accompanied by a great Cava and a Fino – will have to go back and study the lists properly. What a chore, eh?

With his strong focus on both the sherry selection and daily market specials, José has created a spot that you could pop into over and over again – just to make sure you’re not missing out, of course. We loved the hake with aioli, the croquettas, the manchego – and it went on and on. Plenty of justification for visiting again in the very near future.

Thank you to the gorgeous Hannah at Nourish for inviting us.

José, 104 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3UB

Open:  Mon-Fri 12:00-22:30; Sat 10:00-22:30; Sun 10:00-18:00

T: 020 7403 4902 (no reservations)