Where do you go when two Emirates pilots are arriving into London for one night only over Easter weekend and you want a good catch up?

Despite reading that this weekend tourist traffic into London was up over 60%, I somehow talked myself into thinking Covent Garden was the answer. It was primarily driven by my desire to go to The Barbary with these guys as a good sharing food option.

I met Captain P when his wife and I were setting up Taste of Dubai some ten years ago now. P tells me the event is going from strength to strength which is great to hear. And how fabulous that he could just WhatsApp me from afar and appear here in London for a catch up after too many years of not seeing each other. You know good friends when you can do that and just pick up again from where you left off.

When visitors come to London I feel a need to match the restaurant with the person to get a good evening together and my thinking was that Dubai has a lot of the top International chefs doing classic cooking but I was sure the Israeli food revolution had not got there yet. After great meals at sister restaurant Palomar, along with Bala Baya and a truly wonderful meal at Honey & Smoke, The Barbary was the last Israeli place to on my list to try. And Seven Dials is a good place to meet. Certainly that end of Covent Garden has developed massively with a wonderful international collection of one off shops to discover and it is easy access from Heathrow.

I was able to browse whilst I waited. I had a natter with the guys doing the Haeckels pop up at Beast, admired the Easter confectionery at Pierre Marcolini and popped into Bread Ahead’s Monmouth Street corner shop. Wandering the arteries coming from Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard is always entertaining with its unique blend of shops from across the globe.

The Barbary has been on my list for a while and everyone I know has enjoyed their meal there. Personally I don’t think the team have the same Israeli vivacity of Palomar but there is no doubting the food which is all made in front of you on their grills at the counter and with an interest and passion from the chefs that is undeniable. The Spanish Head Chef was happy to explain everything and from the very first bar snacks our dishes were delicious.

The pilot’s favourite was the black salmon dukkah which was prepared in the Israeli version of soy sauce and mirin with a sweet sticky glaze coming from a syrup made by infusing a sugar syrup with the burnt aubergine skins from the baba ghanoush and then sprinkled with dukkah. I loved the warm chickpea starter and everything was lapped up with bread from their tandoor oven which was also in the kitchen on show. The open flamed grills added flavour to all the main dishes and the extra swirls of pastes and dips and drizzles just took the flavour one step further.

This is delicious well made tasty food celebrating the best of that Barbary Coast. The food and service was generous, engaging and somewhere that the pilots declared they would come again. Now, where to suggest next time?

I have to admit: ever since I watched April Bloomfield on Mind of a Chef take her inspiration, I have been ever so obsessed with the concept of the morning bun.

I wonder if it is because of all that European viennoiserie that these are not really something we have in the UK but when you see the experts at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco demonstrate their glorious beauties on the show, then I defy you not to think this is a great idea.

Like endearing April, I can’t help but fiddle with the concept thinking up fillings. It sort of reminds me of a traditional Jewish Rugelach but with better pastry. I used to watch my grandmother make those many years back and that combo of jam, nuts and fruit got me thinking too.

As I had friends over today for Sunday brunch I decided that I would give them a go. I tried a couple of different fillings using simple shop bought croissant dough and playing around with sizes. My easy silicon mould was a great size but I am sure a tin base would get a more effective crunchy base.

Admittedly the pastry itself was just a little bit disappointing, not helped by my lack of wash before baking, but the results were pretty good for a first attempt. For sweet, I went with a use of of the delicious marmalade that my gardener made me for Christmas as the base, topped with raisins and pecans. Part morning bun, part rugelach. For savoury, another use up. The end of last week’s pesto (I told you it had many uses) with extra pine kernels and cheese. I tried two different sizes. The marmalade proved a little too generous after cooking falling to the bottom and stopping that delicious crunchy base, but they were a good size.

Either way, if you are looking for an impressive but achingly simple way to impress for breakfast then just buy some croissant dough and go for it.

Last week I found I was sharing my kitchen with a lone mouse who seemed to enjoy my suppers as much as I did! It stopped me in my tracks and put me right off cooking.

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Thanks only to the wonderful Nick, I have managed to curtail the Mr Mouse visits and now I am feeling more like getting back into the kitchen so it was wonderful this weekend to get back to my therapeutic session that I treat myself with when I am not working. I get that some people would think it such a chore to spend time in the kitchen cooking but for me it is relaxation and therapy. I have perfected such a lovely pesto paste that is a must have during the week to serve on toast with tomato, in pasta, with chicken, in thick Italian-esque soups. The options are endless. Its the combo of basil and rocket as well as pine nuts and walnuts that make all the difference.

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And I always top up my granola when a batch runs down making the most of whatever flakes and nuts I have in the cupboard. I guess it is more of a toasted muesli than granola as I use very little fat and sugar, just a bit of coconut oil and again whatever I have in the cupboard in terms of syrup or honey. But mostly it is just slowly baked toasty grains and nuts. Maybe it should be called Meusola. I added a pan of beautiful stewed Yorkshire forced rhubarb to serve as this is smack bang in season and taste fab with just a clementine poached with it and squeezed out, some vanilla and a touch of ginger syrup.

With breakfast and supper taken care of, it was time to address the cauliflower sitting in my fridge. I have written a few times about the mighty cauliflower and how much I love its flavour and versatility. I am always on the look out for recipes to try and this one caught my eye. I was not familiar with the term ‘tot’ but now I know it, I think there are many applications. I roasted my cauli rather than boiled just to get more flavour and also so that I could use the extras as veggies in my lunchtime salads. Ricing it with the rest of the ingredients takes seconds and then the fun shaping which could be anything you want. I love the fact these are baked beauties as I am not one for frying. But in hindsight a little bit of mozzarella in the middle of one of these shaped as a ball would be a take on arancini that I think would escalate them even further..

The recipe suggests tomato ketchup, or other sauces/dips but I opted to make supper with the addition of eggs and the ultimate dipping sauce: a runny yolk!

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What with one thing and another it has been an incredibly long week so this morning I allowed myself a lazy return under the duvet this morning to drink my morning tea and watch The Mind of a Chef on Netflix. This follows a binge watching of the latest series of Chef’s Table.

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I was hooked on Chef’s Table from the first series (especially Dan Barber and Massimo Bottura) enjoying the tour from the chef’s childhood and struggles through formative years into finding their raison d’être and becoming the admired chef they are today. Some of the later episodes have not made that connection as clearly as the early ones, but then I was blown away by the 60 year old Zen Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan cooking vegan meals for her temple community in South Korea. The peace, tranquility and connection with nature just took all the chaos of my week and transported me into a state of calm there and then. And believe me that was quite a feat given the week I had.

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The Mind of a Chef wasn’t a programme I had heard about but when I saw it featuring Gabrielle Hamilton, I thought I would take a sneak peak. I really enjoyed reading her book “Blood, Bones & Butter” and was gutted not to get into her restaurant Prune when I was in NYC. She is clearly not a woman to mess with and yet I love her approach to food. In the intro credits she says: “Its so good to be classic and not trendy” and I love that about her. The dishes are so simple and yet the flavour she extracts and the combinations she creates are just my type of thing. I have lots more minds to explore and suggest you dip in and out too.

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As I was having a lazy day, I thought I would create a nice healthy brunch and took my inspiration from our outing last weekend. We ventured to another Israeli inspired restaurant from an Ottolenghi protege, Eran Tibi. Whilst reviews have been up and down for Bala Baya, we really enjoyed discovering this alley under Southwark railway arches, just off Union Street and liked the open bakery at the back. These guys make the most delicious pita bread fresh every day and it came beautifully warm with our brunch choices of hummus, Israeli salad, Shakshuka and their open sandwich.

img_7793It was the Shakshuka that inspired me this morning with the deep rich tomato and pepper base flavoured with Middle Eastern spices and those perfectly baked eggs dropped in at the end. Now I have an evening with Gabrielle to entertain and lots more inspirational combos to rise to. Happy Sunday everyone!