Archives for category: Food

The lovely girls in my shop have rather generously shared their lergy with me this week and whilst I am sure at their age it is easy to brush it off, I have to admit to finding it a little harder. Bring on the antioxidants.

Whilst I peruse with interest the books of Amelia Freer, Ella Woodward and Hemsley and Hemsley they are a bit too worthy for me. I do believe in cooking from scratch, avoiding processed food and a big chunk of fruit n veg. But my dishes are probably a bit more in the real world of eating. My weekly shop puts good food in the fridge, freezer and cupboard and ensures there are options throughout the week with a bit more time at weekends to experiment.

So when I opened the fridge this afternoon, pretty hungry after my massage and return power walk I was drawn to a slightly sad old cauliflower (OK – I realise how daft that looks now I have written it). Anyway. This brassica is a new revelation for me with my healthier hat on. Gone are the cauli cheese options and in come roasting, ricing and charring which all deliver flavour through the cooking  method before you do anything else at all.

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Today was cauliflower steak day as I needed to feel meaty and full. But I took the opportunity to roast the rest of the florets so I have them this week for lunchtime salads. Cutting right down the middle is quite satisfying. Just pan fry in a bit of oil (I am using avocado oil at the mo) either side to brown and then chuck in the oven for 15 minutes or until cooked.

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Meanwhile I knocked up a dressing from what I had. Tomatoes were a must given their health properties and for me where there are tomatoes, there is also garlic, chilli, olive oil and lemon (juice & rind). Add to that spring onion, capers and parsley and there you have it.

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By the time I had chopped and mixed together the cauliflower was pretty much ready. Just a chance to clear away and then I could relax and take in the sunshine, not only on my plate but also in the garden. I must get better after that!

It’s been a disappointing few weeks food wise.

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It started with a trip to the much talked about Padella. Anyone and everyone has been talking about it since the duo behind Trullo opened in their Borough Market location. I really enjoyed my Trullo experience so was quite excited by this talk. What’s not to like? Hand made pasta, simple menus, singular concept. The branding and design are lovely – simple. We went on a quiet Sunday and despite the talk of huge queues walked straight to a table. In fact, it was pretty empty which probably didn’t help the experience but it’s all about the pasta, isn’t it?

So the first thing to say is that the Pici cacao e pepe is one of the best dishes you will taste this year. I say taste, because the plate is pretty small and as we were sharing everything it really was a mouthful only of loveliness. The hand crafted, chunky pici is a pasta shape I don’t know and that cheesy, pepper sauce is thick and glossy and salty and yummy. Enough said.

The disappointment was everything else. Burrata that isn’t a patch on my friend M’s creation. Other somewhat average pastas and added to that, a waiter who really was pretty pushy, with no sense of a relaxed Sunday lunch. Thinking back, he probably set the whole tone.

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Fast forward a week and I once again joined the Jones clan for a meal trip to one of our favourites. Pitt Cue Co. has been a tried and tested meal ever since it operated all those years ago from a food truck under the Hungerford Bridge at the Southbank. When it moved to its tiny dungeon location in Soho it had charm and style which is probably why it was packed. The tables were cosy, the sauces in bottles flung on the tables, the cocktails were dirty and the food was lipsmackingly tasty….eaten with your hands and the odd dribble.

This year it clearly had some investment and they unveiled their new snazzy site which has moved to the city. That alone should have set our alarm bells going. It was clearly going to be a different experience. The restaurant itself is a lesson in industrial chic. The bar area talks about home brewed tipples and has high bar seating for walk ins. The open kitchen boasts a huge American-made bespoke grill and their blackboard menu showcases a chalk drawing of their signature mangalitsa pig. But the team have been very open about shunning all the old favourites upon which their reputation was built. Gone is the pulled pork, the pickle back, the enamelware crockery, the BBQ sauces on the table. They see this as a more grown up offering which steps away from the US BBQ theme that they started from and which has been much copied over the years. Why?

In leaving their roots, they have become much like many other places with no real lead. What a shame. It feels like they have gone from leaders to followers. In one article, co-founder Jamie Berger talked about the limited space in Soho which meant limited storage and the issues of running out of things. The irony of all this is that when we got there the restaurant had run out of all the pork on the mains menu. On a bleak Monday evening all they could offer us was the feather blade, the lamb special and the full fish selection. No ribs (a destination dish if ever there was one) , no pulled pork (obviously) and absolutely no cuts of the signature beast unless you count the cold fatty ham. For those who never knew what they were missing, I am sure they will leave satisfied. For the rest …. you will have to reminisce and pray there is the odd rib left for when you get there.

And much like the Padella experience, the disappointment was made so much worse by an aggressive Aussie waitress who obviously had no time for our reminiscing and no respect for the Jones’ commitment to this brand for all those years. Her speed and dismissive service just made me nervous.

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And so to last night. I had the dubious task of recommending a place to meet my New York foodie friends who were over for a couple of days only. I have previously written of their incredible wedding last year which showcased their favourite foods and culminated in a dessert spread from the fab Dominique Ansel. So the pressure was on. I decided to plump for a tried and tested chef…. Nuno Mendes. Taberna do Mercado harks back to his Portuguese roots and once again has been well written up by the many bloggers and writers whose job it is to critique these places.

Maybe it was the fact it was a bank holiday and so very quiet (how come they could only squeeze us in for an 8.45 booking when the place was three quarters empty?) or perhaps once again the annoying waitress whose only criteria for recommending things was the price tag. But once again the food underwhelmed. Surely authentic food that draws from homely childhood cooking would be hot, tasty, embracing. Sadly it was too much style over substance. Some dishes were nice: the mussels, the pork sandwich, the clever olive oil sponge cake. But I wanted so much more than nice. Hey ho.

This morning, I was in my own kitchen. I chopped up some sweet juicy Isle of Wight seasonal tomatoes, drizzled with good olive oil, a dribble of sherry vinegar, and added a good pinch of salt. Then I mixed in a bit of shallot, feta and basil chiffonade. Set atop a toasted piece of sourdough toast it captured the fresh, vibrant flavours that only perfect, matching ingredients can and has set me up for the day. Forget these fancy restaurants. I am staying put for a while.

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Many years ago when I was working at M&S in Lewisham, I would also relief manage the shop in Brixton. It was at the time of the riots and as someone who dipped in and out there, a lesson in dealing with shoplifters and community issues.

Rolling forward some twenty five or so years later I went back to meet friends and discover the burgeoning food scene in this neck of the woods. As I came out of the tube, M&S was opposite me with a new fascia but the same foundations underneath the railway arch. And the same can be said for Brixton itself which has now become gentrified to within an inch of its former life.

Brixton Village has long been a place of great food. Home of the first Franco Manca, the first Chicken Liquor and the first Honest Burger. It has a huge variety of cuisines reflecting the cultural diversity of this city of London. Brixton has long been part of the history of our great city from way back when and the markets here were central to that story. In 2009 the local traders and residents fought hard to stop the development plans that would have destroyed those markets and they were awarded with Grade II status that have protected them and supported them into becoming what they are today.

Mostly it is a story of the inherent community pulling together to protect their independence and build a Microtown that rewards not only themselves, but also everyone in London.

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We started our Sunday tour with gin & tonics in Brixton Village made by a Spaniard who was doing much the same as we had in San Sebastian at the Gintoneria. We progressed from their to Pop Brixton which sits behind the Village as the newest addition to the area having opened in May 2015.

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This community space houses Asian, Ghanian, Indian, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and much more set in a relaxed conglomerate of shipping containers cleverly decorated and arranged to create a fun space to enjoy. There are raised beds of herbs and plants, music stages, craft beers and many artistic stands that come together with a space on top to chill out.

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After that we went back through the original market admiring the local produce and amazing fish stalls who would put stands at Barcelona’s La Boqueria to shame. Then one final spin around the enclosed units that house such diversity of food: cheeses, meats, BBQ, Champagne, cakes, crepes, seafood and much more, before grabbing a final gelato back in the Village itself.

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All in all this is a great place to go, to chill and to admire what can be done with the support of all the wonderful young, passionate, driven people that want to do it. Go. Support. Enjoy.

As a long standing food retail obsessive I am always looking at what is out there, what I think of it and what the next big thing will be. I have an active imagination which means that I am constantly looking to see what’s going on and piecing together bits of what I have seen into my fantasy place which would be cutting edge and innovative.

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In its time, Bills Food and Produce Store was that new place that everyone wanted to see and understand. Founded in 2001 by Bill Collison it was the second iteration of his original green grocer in Lewes, East Sussex. The original store was washed away in the floods of 2000 and as with all these stories, out of such a disaster came the silver lining as he re-established the business with the addition of a cafe. It was a clever model as he was able to add value to the raw produce by making delicious dishes and yet he had all the visual glamour that fresh fruit and veg offer, especially when handled by a talented team. Bill’s sister-in-law Tania Webb encouraged the evolution of the concept bringing her restaurant experience and a woman’s touch to the proceedings and paired with a good chef who understood the value of simple good food, history was made.

Over the years they stuck to their values: serve really good food, make sure every customer has a good time and go that bit further to make sure Bill’s is always somewhere people want to come back to….and they did!

Today Bill’s has been taken over by that talented corporate machine that is Richard Caring and don’t you know it. The individual charm has been rolled out to a formula and whilst it is better than some on the high street it does not have that individual entrepreneurial feel or charm any more. Bill has gone on to write a book, create Bill’s branded items and is still involved in the roll out of the brand but it is Tania and her creativity that brought me back to that Brighton area this weekend.

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Tania merged her love of good food, interest in design, expertise in the industry, kitchen designing partner and fellow food lover/co-worker at Bills, Louise Carter, together and in Summer 2013 Cafe Marmalade was born. She is one clever lady who may downplay the objectives of opening such a place but there is no doubt that her savvy approach has meant a roaring trade and a successful business.

What I liked was the fact that those original values that they set out at Bill’s were ingrained in the offer. Good food, great service, go that bit further.

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I think the whole tone of the place is established through its relaxed and homely approach. The design is rustic and eclectic, you could almost say unfinished. But it is a style no less.

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Simple things like shelves of raw produce and jams, stacks of well thumbed cookery books propping up the product displays and baking trays put straight out on display without touching up the overflowing browned bits of cheesy sauce all add to the feel. But more than that the staff are just great. Young, enthusiastic, engaging, smiley, chatty and above all attentive, they strike just the right tone under the watchful eye of the owners themselves who are there, in site, just bringing their concept to life every single day they operate.

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The flair with which they present everything is absolutely theirs. You feel their interest in food throughout the offer and as the day progresses, the counter moves along with new items added at differing times of the day as they are finished off in the tiny open plan kitchen. Breakfast evolves into lunch and then giant platters of scones or cake stands of friands come in to signal tea. And whilst the food is not going to win any Michelin stars, it is homely, tasty, generous, great value and just how you wish you could cook at home.

If you are even vaguely in the area I heartily recommend it and then take a long walk along the beach – you will need to walk off your over indulgence after falling for all the fab food they offer.

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