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Sofabrother and I had a day out today in London.

It’s always difficult to know where to take someone who is already knowledgable not only about London but also the food world. He always has things to show me in Cape Town and so I needed to reciprocate. We both observed just how over populated the food ‘scene’ is in London. Everywhere you go there is some new place opening, and shutting, so what is worth seeing and knowing?

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Our day started at the Tower of London. Not for its food offering, but because I really wanted to see the evolving art installation that is there. Those of you who know me well understand the relevance of poppies and this really is an incredibly moving, innovative, thought provoking artwork. Over 800,000 poppies fill the Tower’s moat representing the lost lives of the British military who died in the First World War. You can read more about it here and like me, buy one of those poppies here.

Onward to our food day. We decided to explore areas that Sofabro hadn’t already done on his trip and that took us first to Marylebone High Street. Honestly there was not a huge amount that was different there. La Fromagerie is as lovely as ever and Ginger Pig as impressive. Patisserie de Reves had the now famous Kouign Amann in a long oblong form rather than the traditional round and whichever way you look at it, layered buttery pastry with sugar can only be yum. Probably the most surprising moment was to see the old home of Divertimenti now under construction to be replaced by Anthropologie. Such a sign of the times. We grabbed a coffee at Nordic Bakery so that we could see the Swedish influence and then moved onwards to Selfridges.

There we were able to see some products that I wanted to show him. The Pressery almond milk is pure and wonderful, pressing (sorry – bad pun!) all the fashionable buttons that Roots and Bulbs also did on the way down to Oxford Street. The raw health market is one that is gaining coverage for the right reasons and cold pressing seems to be the thing to do lately whether with nuts, fruit, veg or coffee…or any combination of the above. These are quality drinks with nothing added. Pure goodness. They sat alongside Mr Sherick’s milkshakes, created by an old colleague of ours. This is the other extreme in terms of health, but certainly a wonderful product in its own right. The eponymous Mr Sherick used to work in the meat department at M&S and now he is the proud winner of the Grocer’s New Product of the Year 2014. Quite a feat.

Boomf

We also had a nose at The Meringue Girls, Daylesford’s new buttermilk, Selfridge’s new range of Christmas products, a try of hot cordial and tasters at St John’s Bakery. Finally we passed Boomf magical mallows. This pod promoted a new service that allows you to print any picture you have onto a box of nine square marshmallows. White fluffy instagram pics. I don’t know if I was impressed or appalled at the thought that you could print a pic of your loved one, or favourite scene and then eat your way through the whole thing. What will they think of next?

Onwards through St Christopher’s place, Bond Street, South Molton Street and Regent Street until we arrived at Pitt Cue Co. Sofabro hadn’t eaten there yet, so we shared a couple of things and whilst the menu is not as exciting as previously and the prices not as keen, I was relieved to find that the food itself was as yummy as ever. Smoked kimchi, Mangalitsa pork shoulder, beans & red chard….all as rich, dense, smoky and meaty as ever. We needed to walk it off, so made our way back up Kingley Street, Great Portland Street and wended our way towards Tottenham Court Road.

We spotted the new Boopshi’s schnitzel & spritz offering which carried on the theme of so many of these places specialising in one thing. Like the Greek, Opso, that we saw earlier on, they are all offering a select menu, an industrial look & feel, metal, wood and the obligatory pendant lights made from something relevant: a whisk, a pot, a bottle….you name it. Continuing the design theme, we wandered along Tottenham Court Road through Heals, Habitat and West Elm before pondering the offer at Planet Organic and Paul A. Young for a chocolate fix.

HCo table

 

Finally, we ended up at Honey & Co. It felt right that we went there as it has received so much coverage. It’s such an unassuming place but has received great publicity because of its food offer and also its book. I kind of wanted to find it pretentious so that I could snub it but the truth is that it is as good, if not better than people say. We perched outside on a little table, had mint tea made with handfuls of fresh mint and shared a warm chestnut cake with salted caramel. The chef/owner, Itamar Srulovich welcomed us personally as if we were old friends and took us through the impressive afternoon cake offering. He charmed us with observations about his lovely wife and served us himself the most delicate cake. I was touched by the tiny vase of flowers on the table. Plucked daisies and cornflowers just showed me how much they cared, and it reflected in their food. We browsed the book, pondered our day and shared our thoughts before Sofabro went South and I went North to our respective homes. Next time, Cape Town but for now, a great day in London.

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I have been busy recipe testing.

slice of nut loaf

The team I work with at Melrose and Morgan are publishing their first book in October which is the most wonderful compendium of food. Good Food For Your Table is a guide to food, written in an easy colloquial readable style, designed with quirky snippets and fun facts, plus some simple suggestions for piecing together a dish and a handful of recipes as well. All in all, it is going to be the most fab Christmas pressie when it comes out so you all know what you are getting this year!

But for now, we are busy ensuring that the recipes translate from a professional kitchen and chef’s knowledge to the layman, hence my involvement.

When you read a recipe, you really don’t get just what has gone into writing it. Every gram is critical. Every comma. Every description. If you say cut lengthways will you cut it right? do we understand a finger of lemon peel? how to bring together a loaf of bread dough? how much is in a pinch? I could go on.

So under the watchful eye of Mr Melrose, I worked my way through the recipes, checking, perfecting, weighing and tasting my way through a small proportion of the repertoire. It is just one step in a long commitment to creating their book and putting themselves out there to be reviewed. I guess the well known chefs have a team of stylists, writers, home economists and so on to support with the process but for us, it is a matter of getting stuck in and working pretty damn hard.

My kitchen gets a good work out....

My kitchen gets a good work out….

One of the many lovely things about this process is sharing the experience with like minded food fanatics like me. Last week I cooked one evening with my nephew Asher and this week I spent quality time with Mr M. It was also a great excuse to give my relatively new kitchen a run for its money. And it stood up well. When you design a kitchen it is difficult to imagine whether or not it will facilitate an easy way of using it and I am pleased to report that most of my decisions were right. The best bit, given the heatwave we are currently experiencing, was having the bifold windows fully open bringing the kitchen into the garden to benefit from the small breezes from outside.

One of many ingredients boxes to be loaded into the car

One of many ingredients boxes to be loaded into the car

Our recipe test journey started in the professional kitchen weighing and measuring out the many varied ingredients that we needed. It’s quite a job in its own right but great when you have the quality of ingredients that these guys use on a day to day basis. We butchered the most wonderful Sutton Hoo chickens, benefitted from the best pastry the kitchen makes, a full and varied seeds & spice rack plus beautiful produce. It’s no wonder the Melrose and Morgan shop has a loyal following. Then we loaded up the boot, added in the cameras, computers, books etc. and drove back to me.

Spiced butters - I am convinced they are the way forward...

Spiced butters – I am convinced they are the way forward…

Tuesday morning we had a slice of my freshly baked rye loaf (yes – the Bread Ahead starter is doing a fab job at helping me create superb bread) with some of that Tayberry jam we made the other week and we were ready. Mr M was sous chef to me for the days which I took full advantage of. He weighed, chopped, zested and prepped so all I had to do was combine and cook. You have to wait for the book to see the recipes, but what I will say is that I am absolutely sure that they are going to double my usual repertoire, if not triple. It is so lovely to find recipes that work and result in tasty yummy food.

Over the days we were cooking, I encouraged friends to pop in and try. Everyone was suitably impressed taking home pots and tubs, foil wrapped gifts and jars of our creations. Some are still sitting in my fridge this weekend for me to enjoy and other random bits of chicken, stock etc. are in my freezer.

So thank you Mr and Mr M for trusting me with your recipes. I had so much fun and look forward to loads more if at all possible. The only downside was all the washing up – next time we need a potwash in the team!

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Chooks: tapping into the fashion for open brickwork, neon lights, sharing tables etc. etc.

Chooks: tapping into the fashion for open brickwork, neon lights, sharing tables etc. etc.

I had a lovely day yesterday with A. He updated me on his trip to Mykonos and all the yummy things he ate whilst there. We went off to lunch at Chooks in Muswell Hill which has been on my list for a while and did indeed serve a lovely grilled chicken. All very fashionable and simple, but tasty nevertheless. A. asked me where we could go to get great ice cream and so onwards we went to Chin Chin laboratorists.

Chin Chin labs

Chin Chin labs

 

This small ice creamery in Camden is a one off and sticks to a winning formula: three flavours of ice cream made from beautiful custards mixed with liquid nitrogen. There is all the drama that this process creates along with lovely cooking: pure flavoured ice cream, wonderful sauces and a selection of toppings. Sadly the popping candy is no longer (something about it popping over and causing havoc in the kitchen) but the grilled white chocolate was a new one that caught my eye. A. thought the brownwich (brownie cookie sandwich with your choice of ice cream centre) too much for him so we left armed with chocolate ice cream, salted caramel sauce and honeycomb topping! Still, we walked it off by meandering through a sunny day up Primrose Hill and down Regents canal just taking in the day. Lovely.

It has been a busy week which generally means I don’t have much time to prepare stuff at home and having been away last weekend my fridge was an embarrassment with absolutely nothing in it save a pot of sourdough starter just waiting for me to have time to transform it into a lovely loaf of bread. So on my way back from London, I nipped into the supermarket to stock up on nice things that will feed me over the week. Now I know it’s not great to talk supermarket when there are loads of great places to shop for food that would show me in a more authentic light. But the truth is that supermarkets are an integral part of life and where else would I be able to do a weekly shop at 6:00 at night?

The trick is to know what to buy and how to make the most of it. In the past few weeks, I have been falling back on one favourite recipe that was inspired by the lovely whole sea bream in the Waitrose fish counter. I much prefer bream to bass. It just seems meatier and sweeter, if that is the right thing to aspire for in a fish. The trained staff are able to prepare it as you want and all I need is the guts taking out. I like to keep the head on and the scales on – more of that later. That, paired with a lemon and some lovely fine beans are all you need – promise.

Dill from my walled garden

Dill from my walled garden

When I got back I knew I was 20 minutes away from a yummy dinner. I stuffed the inside of the fish with slices of lemon and a handful of dill from my walled garden, then seasoned it and wrapped it in baking parchment. “En papillote” is the technical term, but honestly, you just wrap it in the paper making sure that it is watertight but with a bit of space inside. Some people add wine, others stock but when the fish is as lovely as this, I don’t think it needs anything else at all.

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20 mins in the oven is time enough to get the beans on to boil, pour a glass of wine and prepare the table. When the fish is ready, it is a matter of peeling back the paper, peeling away the skin (which pulls back all the easier for having the scales on) and filleting the fish: four succulent pieces of beautiful sea bream and seasoned buttered beans. Add a squeeze of lemon and there you are – I could almost have been in a Greek taverna myself.

The buttery beans and lemony fish just finish this dish

The buttery beans and lemony fish just finish this dish

 

 

M and I had a day trip yesterday popping back to where she used to live and discovering one of her favourite places, which incidentally used to sell her cheese when she lived locally.

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Severn and Wye Smokery is located just west of Gloucester, sitting nonchalantly in the middle of the A48. It has a very unassuming frontage but clearly those in the know have sussed this place years ago and many, including M, have brought produce here to be smoked for them.The smokery operates in a traditional style using local wood and the product is handled very well to get that fine balance of depth of flavour into all that they do. They are well known for their smoked eel and of course smoked salmon, curing literally thousands each week and benefiting from the quality wild salmon in the local river Severn.

Severn & Wye fish counter featuring local Var salmon

Severn & Wye fish counter featuring local Var salmon

The shop itself is centred around a overly dominant counter that for me has too much going on, but clearly it is the fish counter and smoked fish that is the showcase. Here the displays are traditional and eye catching with fresh fish laid proud with a glint in their eye and a shine in their scales. All proof that it is fresh and wonderful.

A fish counter at San Sebastian's La Bretxa market show how much more can be added to displays with wooden boxes, oranges and bottles of wine to inspire

A fish counter at San Sebastian’s La Bretxa market show how much more can be added to displays with wooden boxes, oranges and bottles of wine to inspire

It made me think back to the fish counters I saw recently in San Sebastian and honestly, I think there are some lessons to be taken from there, but you can’t fault the quality and the freshness on display. It’s just that the Spanish understand how to make a piece of fish a meal, so they include things like lemons, oranges, samphire and even bottles of wine in their fish counters.

Keeping it open and real

Keeping it open and real

Back at Severn and Wye, little windows to the back show the teams working tirelessly to manage the volume of fish in production checking for bones etc. which may be a bit factory-esque but for me it was refreshing to keep everything open to the public and for us to see what it takes to make such a good product.

A showcase platter with signature smoked salmon and eel presented beautifully for lunch

A showcase platter with signature smoked salmon and eel presented beautifully for lunch

Clearly the fashion in smoking is not going anywhere fast. The process has been around for generations as a way of preserving all sorts of things but particularly meat & fish. Many classic dishes have centred around smoked fish ingredients and it was lovely to see these on the cafe menu including a signature kedgeree which is a favourite of mine. Smoked products used to be associated with the cheaper end of the market until clever chefs realised just how wonderful that deep smokey flavour was and how much it enhances dishes. The traditional US BBQ has always understood that smoking adds so much more and of course ingredients like chipotle has been used for generations in Mexico. Smoking is also a technique that the Scandinavians have long developed for all their wonderful fish and we had the most fabulous smoked prawns served simply in a paper bag when we were in Stockholm.

Simply delicious smoked prawns served at Pumpen, the casual eatery at Oaxen

Simply delicious smoked prawns served at Pumpen, the casual eatery at Oaxen

Now there are restaurants dedicated to all things smoked (see Etxebarri that I recently wrote about) including smoked butters, ice creams and smokey mash.

Even at home, there are more and more opportunities to play with both hot and cold smoking with some great domestic machines. Plus lots of different wood chips to meet your flavour preference. And if you are not yet up to it, then these bags are an easy cheats alternative.

However, yesterday, we left it to the experts and bought a few things back with us. Smoked salmon of course. Smoked ham. Smoked garlic. Today, that ham went on top of my favourite chicory recipe which has been previously featured in this blog. Lunch was a yummy dish with memories of a wonderful day out west. Thanks M.

Beautifully caramelised chicory to bring out the sweetness

Beautifully caramelised chicory to bring out the sweetness