Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Barcelona Spring 2015

Barcelona roost

Late February in Barcelona and the citrus trees are festooned with heavy fruits, leafless white-barked plane trees soar into blue skies (maybe we were lucky) and a few delicate blooms of purple bougainvillea cling on gamely.  The squawks of the Monk Parakeets vie with the roar of traffic around the City, sending you scuttling for the narrow streets of the Barri Gotic when the noise gets too much.  Here, I find the most ridiculously picturesque feral pigeon roost I'm ever likely to see.

Breakfasting in a hotel rarely appeals to me.  Early mornings are, I think, the best times to dive into unfamiliar streets and simply follow your nose.  The aroma of eggs being cooked, bread baked and coffee brewed draw me down the streets and alleyways of cities.  Sometimes it’s good, sometimes bad and, if you’re lucky, it can be revelatory.  

Nømad Coffee - Barcelona

I know Barcelona pretty well and this time I’m staying close to the best place for coffee.  I was introduced to Nømad Coffee soon after it opened in 2014.  Starting off its life as Cøffee Lab & Shop (Nomad Productions), which I wrote about last year,  I'm glad to see it has now settled on an easier name to remember.  The place has only got better, serving up, for my money, the best filters and cortados you will find in Barcelona.  The staff are lovely, it's hip without trying and it sits in the rare haven of peace that is Passatge Sert in El Born.  What's more they'll now serve you the best croissant in Barcelona too, from nearby El Born bakery Hofmann.  

Satan's Coffee Corner

Another recent arrival is Satan's Coffee Corner in the Barri Gotic.  It's very close to the Cathedral de Barcelona but hell to find.  Worth seeking out too for Ken's great sandwiches and salads.  If you prefer your coffee more traditionally Spanish, the best place for that is the institution that is El Magnifico at Career de l'Argenteria 64

Sardines & Anchovies
at Monvinic

When lunchtime comes around, I make no apology for yet again recommending Monvinic in the Eixample district.  I last wrote properly about this fantastic wine bar and restaurant back in 2013 and its standards are as high as ever.  The cellar stores several thousand bottles of wine from all over the world and there's a library should you want to make a real study of them.  But it's not just the wines that bring me back to Monvinic.  The food, served in both the low-lit bar and the stylish restaurant is very good and the Menu del Dia remains astonishing value.  Two 'Tapas' dishes (really not that small), a main, a dessert, a glass of wine, bread and water for Euros 19.50 is a steal.  To start, a small dish of Sardines and Anchovies - a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity; a cocotte of just-cooked vegetables in a light, buttery broth; a cream of cauliflower soup; and a bowl of whipped bacalla served simply with toasted bread.  The Monvivic take on the very British Shepherds Pie, in this case using shredded confit duck, was irresistible to us both as a main dish and with our included glass of Catalan Do Empordà Sellecció Vinyes Velles 2011, it did not disappoint.  The dessert was the only no-choice course but was a delicious chocolate tart with orange sorbet.  Honestly, just go!     

Natural wines - L'Anima del Vi

There is a clear interest in natural wines in Barcelona, evidenced at the tucked away L'Anima del Vi and nearby Bar Brutal in Can Cisa on Calle Princesa.  However, it's the cosy Bar Zim which is a firm favourite for me.  Francesco keeps a short wine list available by the glass or bottle and manages to deliver a few freshly prepared tapas using good ingredients and benefitting from having the brilliant Formatgerie La Seu just a couple of doors down.

Quimet y Quimet

For Tapas, the Adria Brothers' Tickets and Bodega 1900 are the current hot spots, both in Parallel. Cal Pep in El Born continues to serve very good seafood but you really should squeeze into the ever-crowded Quimet y Quimet.    

Hofmann Pastelería

I've already mentioned you can buy Hofmann croissants at Nømad Coffee, but for the full range of cakes and pastries a visit to their El Born Pastelería Hofmann is well worth doing - get the almond one!

Fish stall in Mercat de Santa Caterina

There are numerous good markets in Barcelona.  I rarely visit La Boqueria (at La Rambla 91) but can recommend Mercat de Santa Caterina on Av. Francesc Cambo and La Llibertat in Gracia for shopping. La Libertat is the least visited by tourists but there is fabulously fresh produce and I always make a bee-line for LaGrana where the delightful smallholder will point out the best Catalan pine nuts, Marcona almonds, Malaga raisins and so many fruits and then vacuum-pack them for travel - great service of excellent produce.

Oh, and did I mention the beach?

A February evening on the beach
in Poble Nou, Barcelona

Passatge Sert 12
08003 El Born
Twitter: @nomadcoffeebcn
Current opening times Mon-Fri, 8am-3pm
Directions: Passate Sert runs between Carrer de Trafalgar and Carrer de Sant Pere Més Alt
Diputació 249
08007 Eixample

Carrer de l'Arc de Sant Ramon del Call 11
08002 Barcelona

Carrer Dagueria 20
Barri Gotic
08002 Barcelona

Poeta Cabanyes 25
El Poble Sec

Flassaders 44
El Born
08003 Barcelona

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Coleman Coffee Roasters

Coleman Coffee Roasters

You've probably noticed I have very few recommendations for coffee on my blog.  There are, of course, any number of places in London where you can drink a decent coffee, and plenty of guides pointing the way.  There are a few I'll happily call in at but then there are the independents whose focus is on their own roasting.  If they'll brew me a cup and sell me the beans directly, that's perfect. So here's one for you.

Jack Coleman grew up in a flat above the original Monmouth Coffee in Covent Garden with the aroma of coffee permeating every corner of his home.  With that introduction it could have gone either way - coffee hater or coffee lover.  Fortunately for us it was the latter.  Fascinated by coffee, he was working in the Monmouth shop as a barista from his early to late teens before helping set up the original Fernandez & Wells.  Then an Otto SwadloV3 roaster was going begging and the idea of bringing it back to life was irresistible.  The machine was in pieces but with a bit of TLC and a lot of application, Summer 2008 saw Jack Coleman roast his first batch of raw coffee on the 58 year old Viennese beauty.  With modifications for ducting, insulation, pressure gauges, fans and thermometers, it's now producing some of the best coffee roasts in London.

From his small south-east London roastery Jack Coleman specialises in Arabica coffees, buying his raw beans based on quality and traceability.  Roasting is in small batches of around 3.5kg, which is as much as the Otto Swadlo V3 can cope with.  On Saturdays he crosses the few metres from his base, brings the Marzocco up to temperature and serves shots of excellent expresso.  You can also pick up a bag of his freshly roasted beans.  The fact he shares this retailing space with The Little Bread Pedlar bakery who make, for my money, the best croissants in London, makes this the perfect place for a Saturday breakfast.  Handily, there's a fantastic choice of independent food traders clustered around the Spa Terminus location.

If you can't get to Spa on Saturdays, you can get a taste of Coleman Coffee in London at some of the best places like Leila's Shop, Italo Deli and Brunswick House.

Piccolo from Coleman Coffee

Coleman Coffee Roasters

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Ricotta Pancakes for Breakfast, Lunch, Tea

Ricotta Pancakes
with banana and maple syrup

It's almost Shrove Tuesday.  I know because I'm getting the usual hints and reminders that pancake making needs to be factored-in to the food plans soon. With its approach comes the usual thoughts of what kind of pancakes to make?

Buttermilk Pancakes with their tangy, ripe fermented flavour and open texture that sucks up syrup like a sponge. Their satisfaction quotient belies the fact that buttermilk has only a 2% fat content, being the liquid leftover from the butter-making process.  If you can get true buttermilk, rather than the supermarket 'cultured' variety, your pancakes will taste so much better.  However, my favourite pancake for this day of the year, and probably yours too, is the one who's mixing I don't even have to think about; the one I've made 'forever'.  My Shrove Tuesday Pancakes, I've learned, fall somewhere between Jane Grigson's "Pancakes for the Poor" and "Pancakes for the Rich".  This is almost certainly the one I will make on 17 February.  There will be sugar and fresh lemons on the table, and Lyle's Golden Syrup for some (me).

Folding in the egg whites

But I've already offered you recipes for both of these pancake mixes.  So here's a Ricotta version.
Ricotta is a soft Italian cheese made from milk whey left over from cheesemaking.  The resultant pancakes are richer than the buttermilk version, having a higher fat content, and producing a similarly fluffy-texture.  For me, the taste is not as good as a buttermilk pancake, but that could be down to the fact I can get good quality buttermilk, at an affordable price, more easily than an equivalent ricotta I'm prepared to treat this way.

This is my go-to recipe for Ricotta Pancakes.  It's adapted from the one in Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini of Rose Bakery in Paris and includes the reminder: 'when adding "wet to dry" never knock the air out of the mixture by over-mixing the batter.  In fact at this point you should "turn the batter over with a large spoon no more than eight times!'

Ricotta Pancakes
(Serves 4 - makes around 8 pancakes)

100g(4oz) ricotta cheese
100ml (3½ fl oz) milk
2 medium eggs, separated
75g (2¾ oz) plain four
½ teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
A little unsalted butter for cooking

Beat the ricotta with the milk and egg yolks until smooth.
In a separate large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Add the wet mixture to the flour and stir very lightly.
Beat the egg whites until stiff then fold them into the batter.
Melt just a little butter in a small frying pan and add 3-4 tablespoons of batter.  Tilt the pan to get an even thickness of batter.  
Cook on a low to medium heat until the pancake is lightly golden on the bottom.  Turn and cook for another minute or so until cooked through.  
Cook the rest of the pancakes in the same way, adding a little extra butter to the pan for each.
Serve hot with your choice of fruit or sauce.

Monday, 26 January 2015

A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry

Radicchio and red onions on white bean purée
from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry
Photo by Evie

I think most of us now accept that eating less meat and heavy foods is the way to go - though "meat-free Monday" still annoys the hell out of me.  Truth is meat has only been on my menus a couple of times a week for years now, sidelined for more vegetables, grains and fish, and I know I'm far from alone in moving to a healthier, more thoughtful way of eating.  That  doesn't make Diana Henry's latest book, A Change of Appetite, any less welcome.  In fact it's a book for the way many of us eat now and, certainly in this house, it's finding an appreciative audience.  

The focus of the book is the author's perception that people want to eat more healthily and the acceptance that it would be good for her to make some changes to her own diet.  This book came out of curiosity about what 'healthy eating' means and how to achieve it without compromising on the sheer enjoyment of food.  The guiding principle for the author was that dishes had to be delicious, their healthiness being a bonus, and there would be a thoughtfulness about the ingredients borne out of wide reading (there is an impressive bibliography).  This is not a diet book. Diana Henry doesn't tell you what you can't eat - that was a relief because frankly no-one is going to take away my cake - but what you can.  In that vein, I share Diana Henry's belief that "The problem isn't with what you eat at one meal, but what you eat across the board".

A Change of Appetite offers the, now, familiar format of the four seasons, each with reminders of ingredients that are at their best early, mid and late in the quarter.  Along with stand-alone recipes there are menus to help bring balance of flavour and nutrition to a meal.  Recipes globetrot with dishes like Vietnamese Rice paper rolls with nuoc cham; a Lentil and roast tomato soup with saffron from India; an Italian dish of Lamb scottadito with summer fregola;  a North African Spiced mackerel with kamut and as pretty a Persian Salad as you'll ever see; a recipe for Georgian Roast chicken with walnut sauce and hot grated beetroot; and there are dishes from Northern Europe like Citrus marinated salmon with fennel and apple salad and Braised venison and beetroot with horseradish.  Puddings are on the menu but with an emphasis on fresh and light, like Blood orange and cardamom sorbet; Raspberries with basil and buttermilk sherbet and Blueberry and gin jellies.  Happily, you'll find Pistachio and lemon cake and a Blackberry and apple rye galette too.

It's important to know that as Diana Henry says "there is lots of big front-of-mouth flavours, such as chilli, ginger and lime, the kind of thing you want when you aren't eating starchy or rich food". Spices are a prominent feature and, if they're something you're not used to, the first time you make a dish you may want to reduce the quantities just a little in some recipes.

Yoghurt with honeyed saffron syrup, almonds and apricot compote
from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry

Photo by Evie

So, what have a I tried so far?  Radicchio and red onions on white bean purée with its mix of bitter, sweet and earthy, felt healthy and satisfying eaten on its own for lunch but there are suggestions for what to serve it with and how you can change the basic recipe (a feature of many recipes in the book).  Yogurt with honeyed saffron syrup, almonds and apricot compote was a big hit. The combination of apple juice, cardamom and citrus infused dried apricots with yogurt and a saffron and orange-flower water syrup is a delicious one and visually it's a stunner.  I didn't have agave syrup so substituted a slightly lesser amount of honey.  It's easy to overdo saffron, so be cautious.  Cardamom too needs to be used sparingly for as Diana Henry says, cardamom "needs to move through a dish like a ghost" .  Once all the elements of the dessert were put together, all was perfection.  Citrus compote with ginger snow is another visually arresting dessert.  I'm a big fan of lime so appreciated its liberal use in this dish.  The "snow" is a granita that packs a big ginger punch and could be a little too powerful for some.

Citrus compote with ginger snow
from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry

Photo by Evie

Dishes I'm really looking forward to trying include Smoked haddock with Indian scented lentils, inspired by Kedgeree; Red mullet and saffron broth with corfu garlic sauce; Roast tomatoes and lentils with dukka-crumbed eggs; and, when summer arrives, a Middle-Eastern inspired Cucumber and yogurt soup with walnuts and rose petals and Poached white peaches with rosé wine jelly.  I could go on.

I'm wary of the blurb on book covers but in this case Yotam Ottolenghi's "Everything Diana Henry cooks I want to eat" quote sums up my own feelings about A Change of Appetite.  All this and Diana Henry's scholarly and engaging writing style.  If you're still wondering if this book is for you, take it from the shelf and read the two pages at the back of the book ''Final Thoughts'.  Full of good sense reminders for a more thoughtful way of eating.  I think you'll be convinced.

A Change of Appetite
by Diana Henry

First published 2014 by Mitchell Beazley
Photo by Evie

As ever, with Diana Henry's books, the photography, by Laura Edwards, is beautiful and evocative.  I love this book and it's already earned its keep on my bookshelf.  I know I'm going to make a lot of the recipes, and I'll feel all the better about having my occasional cake.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Artusi in Peckham

Ricotta & braised radicchio
at Artusi Peckham

It's easy to tell when an area of London is heating up property-wise.  The nearest parade of shops start to get a lick of paint and an air of fresh-thinking.  SE15 is a case in point where the traders on Peckham's Bellenden Road now include ex-Ginger Pig butcher Charlie Shaw with his own Flock & Herd butchery; popular Thai street-food restaurant The Begging Bowl; Melange chocolate shop and cafe; and the very special grocer General Store where the shelves groan with foodstuffs from many London producers.  Here too is a little gem of a restaurant, Artusi at No. 161.

Taking its name from *Pellegrino Artusi, this determinedly Italian restaurant has Jack Beer as Owner and Chef (ex-Clove Club and Peckham Bazaar).  It's a relaxing kind of place with a short, understated menu and charming staff.  Simply furnished, the tables for two can be pushed together the length of the banquette seating to accommodate groups and a Long Table in the back, right by the kitchen action, can be booked for parties (seats 18).

The Evening menu may offer a starter of Seared Beef Heart with peppers or Burrata with braised radicchio.  Mains might include Venison Haunch with root vegetables or Cod with broccoli.  Expect a choice of a couple of desserts, maybe Chocolate Mousse, Tiramisu or Olive Oil Cake.  At Sunday lunch there's a set 3-course menu for £20.  Weekday lunches are even more pared-down.  The small, wholly Italian, wine list is reasonably priced starting at £20 a bottle/£4 a glass going up to a Barolo at £62.

Linguine with Duck ragout
at Artusi Peckham

This is simple Italian food of the kind that is so often done badly.  There are no hiding places, no tricksy flourishes or sauces to hide a multitude of sins. I've had several lunches at Artusi.  Each one has been exemplary.  They have included a dish of radicchio - two varieties, one intensely bitter and one mildly so - charred and paired with a whipped ricotta and dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. Another time, pillowy ricotta served with braised radicchio and tomatoes.  Both dishes were juicy and big on flavour.  Squid with Potatoes was no looker but was a pleasing plateful of tender squid and waxy potatoes brought together by a fish stock-based emulsion.  The pasta dishes are served in two portion sizes at £6.50 and £10.50.  Spaghetti Puttanesca was punchy perfection, Linguine with Duck Ragout was flavoursome and well balanced.  A deeply comforting bowl of Beef and Pork Meatballs in a herby tomato sauce was simply served with parmesan.  A light as air Olive Oil Cake came with baked thyme-infused pear and caramel sauce.  Scoops of Ice Cream a - one Coffee and one Salted Honey - were served exactly as you hope, just-melting softness in a cold bowl.  It takes confidence to serve up ice cream quite so plainly but here it's not misplaced.

Expect to pay about £50 for two at lunch.

Coffee ice cream and Salted Honey ice cream
at Artusi Peckham

There's a modesty about Artusi.  It's the word that came to mind when on one visit a party of 5 arrived for a wedding celebration straight from the ceremony.  In a world where thousands of pounds are spent on the 'big day', this was a model of restraint and a delight to observe.  I applaud the Happy Couple's choices for their big day, and for the sweet way Artusi welcomed them.  Let's have more modesty, I say.

161 Bellenden Road
London SE15 4DH
Tel: 020 3302 8200

*Pellegrino Artusi made his fortune as a silk merchant which funded his twin passions of literature and food.  In 1891 he self-published La Scienza in cucina e l'Arte de mangiar bene (The Science of Cookery and The Art of Eating Well).  He was the first to include recipes from all regions of Italy in a single cookbook and is credited with helping to establish a national Italian identity following unification.  By the time of his death in 1911, sales of the book exceeded 200,000 copies.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Christmas Gifts for Food Lovers 2014

Basket of wrapped teas
at My Cup of Tea

As usual with my Christmas gift list, I've chosen things that are modestly priced but highlighted some things a little higher up the price scale for those who like to spend a bit more on their very own food-lover.  Many of the gifts can be bought on-line but, as I live in London, I've mentioned where they can be bought over the counter in the capital.  Most of the sources are small businesses.  I hope this list gives you some inspiration.

Hand-carved Tea Scoop
at My Cup of Tea

A beautifully wrapped packet of tea blended with care.  My choice would be from my favourite tea blender My Cup of Tea.  Maybe the slightly malty-flavour of the 2nd flush Assam Halmari at £15/100g, a special Uji Gyokuro green tea with a lovely balance of sweetness and mild bitterness at £40/100g or a pack of Spicy Turkish Apple Muslin Teabags at £14.

Cherrywood tea caddy
at My Cup of Tea

In addition to the delicious blends of tea and tisane, this shop is a treasure trove of beautiful individual tea-related gifts.  A wooden scoop hand-carved from a single piece of wood.  Each one is subtly different reflecting the nature of the natural material £18; a Japanese hand-thrown tea bowl, around £40; a Japanese handmade Cherrywood tea caddy, around £80.

Monmouth at
Borough Market

A packet of coffeee beans or ground coffee.  My favourite at the moment is Monmouth Coffee Company's Sukari from Kabare Town Mt. Kenya with a lovely light acidity for £27 kg and an outstanding mountain water-process decaffeinated organic Granja La Esperanza from Colombia which I've taken to drinking at night. It has lovely toffee flavours and low acidity £26 kg.  Monmouth don't do gadgets but you can pick up a ceramic filter for £9 or my favourite Pannetone made by the Ulcigrai family near Trieste for £17 (imported by Leila McAlister and also,stocked at her shop on Calvert Avenue E2).

Pierre Herme
Chocolate Selection

Macarons or chocolates are always welcome at any time of year and Pierre Herme does both very, very well.  You can buy them in various box sizes or just a few in a packet (budget around £1.90 per macaron).  The chocolates are top-notch and I'd advised including some of the Infinement Vanilla with its combination of Tahitian, Mexican and Madagascan vanillas - a box works out at just under £2 per chocolate.  There's also a small collection of exquisite cakes £15-20.  New branch just opened on Monmouth Street, Covent Garden.

Friends of Arnold Circus
Hollyhock Seeds

Leila's Shop (and Cafe) on Calvert Avenue E2 is a great little place for gifts for food-lovers.  Look beyond the baskets of fantastic fruit and veg and you'll find gifts like a £1 packet of Hollyhock Seeds gathered from the nearby public amenity garden Arnold Circus - all proceeds go to the Friends of Arnold Circus charity.

Friends of Arnold Circus water bottles
at Leila's Shop

Boxes of Colavolpe chocolate-coated clementines are £10 and boxes of sticky Calabrian figs are £9.80-£12.  Here too you'll find stainless steel Arnold Circus Water Bottles for £10 - proceeds from sales go towards a drinking-water fountain for Arnold Circus.

Wooden Kitchen String Box© David Mellor

British company David Mellor has been making cutlery and kitchen products in Sheffield since 1969.  Their shop, just off Sloane Square, is the place to go if you're looking for quality.  This acorn-shaped Alderwood String Box caught my eye at £23.  There are David Mellor glass bowls in a range of jewel colours 10-13cm priced at £16-24 each.  Wooden products are a bit of a feature including the work of Irish woodturner Liam O'Neill whose bowls are made using timber only from trees felled through old age or natural disaster and range in price from £29-£134.

Mons Cheesemongers' counter

Mons Cheesemongers is the place I'd head to for a selection of French cheeses.  Ones I'm enjoying right now are an unpasteurised goat's milk Charolais with a mineral nuttiness at £8.90 each, a buttery pasteurised cow's milk Persille du Beaujolais at £22 kg and a fruity raw cow's-milk Beaufort at £33.60 kg.  Also, it's the season for Vacherin Mont d'Or and Mons have a fantastic one at £11.95 (11cm size).

This is my last posting of the year so, to all of you who are celebrating, Happy Christmas and see you in 2015.