Archives for category: Restaurants

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?

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!

 

 

I am not a great believer in new year resolutions. Just because we get past the 1st of Jan doesn’t connect with me thinking I have to make radical changes. I was once told that if you say DON’T do something then you are programmed to ignore the “don’t”. It is probably some management rubbish but I prefer to stay positive and think about doing rather than not doing.

But the first week of January is a great time to take stock of what is working in my life and doing more of that. For me turning fifty seemed a bigger milestone than new year and I persevere with my 50 things at 50 resolve. My friend pointed out that if I do one thing a week then I will get there but somehow that seems too regimented for me so I am going with spontaneity at the moment and not panicking just yet that I might not get to fifty. I don’t think doing more cooking is actually on the list as it is old news but I started this year wanting to continue making good foods for my body.

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I was telling my nephew and niece all about Donna Hay today as I am finding her posts and books a great day to day approach at the moment. She seems to bring sanity into the healthy arena and has such a breezy sunny way which must be partly down to her Aussie roots. My Christmas angel added her latest book to the parcels and it is already getting my cookery going. Her approach is clean, simple, tasty food with a short ingredients list and everything is pretty quick to make. It is perfect for me.

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Whilst I try to keep a healthy and balanced diet there is no doubt that I do have a sweet tooth and this is a challenge. At the end of a meal I desire a little sweet something and it seems that good ol’ Donna’s bliss balls are the perfect thing. I have tried her recipe before but didn’t like the combo of coconut oil with cacao so today I just adapted my own recipe inspired by hers. I substituted almond butter for the coconut oil and just chucked that, some soaked skin on almonds, cacao and the 4 remaining dates going soggy on my fruit bowl into a magi mix and hey presto….a professional looking treat ready in my fridge for those cravings. It’s amazing how so few ingredients can go such a long way. No wonder Donna calls them bliss. I take one to work for that 3pm lull which is especially dangerous since I sit above a kitchen full of pastry chefs making indulgent treats every day. So this way I can control my intake without feeling deprived.

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Pleased with my efforts I went off to meet a friend for her 50th birthday. She wanted tea and cake and all the usual hotel high tea events were not going to be right. So I took the opportunity to add to my 50 things at 50 and try the recently opened Dominique Ansel in London. From the getgo he was getting huge queues and has been quite the publicity monkey since being here in London but I thought the first week of Jan may be less crazy than usual.

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And yes, I get the irony! after my resolve to continue healthy eating, but in my defence I did walk there so felt I deserved a treat at the end of that. I went to his place in New York some years ago and the queues just keep on coming so when he opened in London it was just a matter of biding my time to find the right opportunity to go there. Today is a post Christmas/New Year blow out bank holiday Monday and I was right in thinking we didn’t need to queue. Still, there were none of his famous signature cronuts available at 2.30pm which was a shame. I had one at a wedding in New York a year or so ago so have had that experience but my friend hadn’t and had to opt for the DKA. Personally I think that a much nicer pastry.

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As part of his launch here, he posted on instagram some incredible creations that nodded to London and the UK, exclusives for his site here. So I went for the Paris-London: a twist on the Paris-Brest with earl grey mousse and lemon curd and can only report to be underwhelmed. In fact, I left most of it which tells you a lot. I noticed that most others were going with his made-to-order items like the cookie shot and the frozen s’mores and all taking pictures for their instagram pages.

We walked away with the feeling of the Emperor’s New Clothes. What is a down and dirty start up shop in New York which has a pace, a passion and of course actual Cronuts has been polished to within an inch of its life here in London. The designers have taken over and in the grandeur lost the experience for the customer. Fundamentally the operation does not flow. To say the service was slow is being kind. Not only was the one girl on a till impossibly slow, but we had to re-queue for another cup of tea and this took 20 minutes to order before we even stood a chance of getting it. Everything goes through one queue with one poor member of staff. My experience in New York’s tiny Soho shop just out shone this new upmarket jazzy London version. Such a shame that this talented chef has been a victim of his own success. I think I will stick to the bliss balls!

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I was advised to go to Henne by Mrs K who knows a thing or two about these things and she couldn’t have given me a better recommendation for my 50th birthday celebrations. I so wanted it to be as good as I had hoped and it was that and so much more.

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We drove west of Copenhagen over bridges, through fields and across waters and finally when there was almost nowhere else to go as we had crossed the Jutland and arrived at Henne Kirkeby Kro.

 

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From the moment we arrived there was a warm feeling of being somewhere very special. Even the weather cheered up for our arrival. This 200 year old former coaching inn now boasts a Michelin starred restaurant, newly designed hotel rooms but much much more than this is the team who work there who, for one moment in time, bring you into the bosom of their family. The resultant experience is one that is hard to articulate and very hard to forget.

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Chef Paul Cunningham may have been on holiday that week but his presence and inspiration is ever present. He left his Copenhagen restaurant to come here and you can understand why. The grounds boast the biggest kitchen garden in the country and they really do live the field to fork ethos here – not because this is a concept or a marketing tool but rather that it is the only right way to approach food. The fish comes out of the sea which is minutes away and so it is fresher, sweeter, tastier than any fish you will ever try. The meat comes from uber local farms. We shared lunch with the lady who makes all their sausages and then there is the bacon…. words really can’t describe this treat.

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On arrival we took the opportunity to discover the gardens ourselves. Every nook and cranny had something to discover and whilst it wasn’t an abundant time of year, there was so much to see. Someone had a sense of humour and style with so many little touches. We were given tea, cake, a nose into the various rooms that make up the dining room and an introduction to the evening, chatting to Staffordshire born chef Paul P and the most fabulous and wonderful restaurant manager, Jann Olesen.

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After a brief trip to the beach front sunset and a shower to beat all showers, we were ready to be ushered to our room for dinner. We were seated at the table adjacent to the kitchen and welcomed with the noise of REM coming from the kitchen and a lovely natural bowl of flowers and fruits from the estate. We knew we were in for something memorable.

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Bread and Butter the Henne way

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How to describe the food? Well this was cooking at its classical best with superb ingredients and wonderful wines. From the first appetisers and the presentation of the bread and butter, made from a sourdough called Helena named after Helena Christiansen, we knew we were in the hands of a team who were doing things differently. Each course came with care out of a joyous kitchen and if you can genuinely taste the emotion that goes into a dish, then this was love.

Jann made the evening so very special

Jann made the evening so very special

But what made this so much more than all the best meals you have had is the service that came with it. Jann is the best. He finds just the right balance of familiarity, information, fun and professionalism. He is interested and interesting. A huge asset to this team and to the restaurant world. Two or three stars must be imminent.

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A peak into the kitchen workings

At the end of the service we saw the Head Chef hugging his team and thanking them for their hard work. This was leadership in a different way to most kitchens and one he says brings the best out of everyone. Most stay on the estate itself and through this you have a camaraderie that pervades everything. The young teams of the future grow up here and will undoubtedly go on to fabulous things.

Cup of tea anyone?

Cup of tea anyone?

Our wonderful final waiter even went out into the freezing garden at well gone midnight to bring us mint and lemon verbena for a final digestif. We needed it!

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And just hours later, still fuller than full from dinner, we faced breakfast. What a feast. Again the table was set with all things natural from the garden and the usual understated Danish set up that we had come to recognise. Food was simple but fab. That bacon, those sausages, home made yogurt, fruit, breads, eggs done every single way you could imagine, honey from the hives we saw yesterday, jam from the fruits of the trees. Everything was treated with a light touch and a proud heart. How could we refuse.

Fish n Chip Friday!

Fish n Chip Friday!

Rolling out of our rooms and getting ready to leave, we were sat in the lounge when we were presented with gifts. Jars of jam, honey, vac pack loaves of bread from last night. And just when we thought we were ready to go we were once again ushered into our dining room by Jann because, we were told, it was Fish n Chip Friday!! Aarghh. How could we squeeze in a wafer thin mint least of all fish and chips. Dreading the thought that we would have to be rude and refuse this, we waited and chatted to chef who was there doing his orders and switching from his black country British twang to fluent Danish. He told us that through being part of the Henne family he had become a better version of himself and what more can one say than that?

Fish and chips, by the way, were so good that we scoffed the lot.

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