Monthly Archives: February 2010

On location: Zetter bar (Clerkenwell, London)

All good meals start with an apero, so here is my first cocktail bar feature – Zetter in Clerkenwell.

I went with three friends (including Fashpolitico) to Zetter a couple of weeks ago for the cocktail happy hour. We all went for the a sloe gin and blackberry champagne cocktail. This was a great apero – the flavours were there but not too pronounced, and a real appetite stimulant, and a combination I recommend you try (muddle one blackberry with a small amount of sloe gin, strain, and top up with champagne or prosecco).  The rest of the cocktail list looked pretty good too (mai tai was also a hit) and I liked that they had a good mixture of  innovative drinks as well as classic cocktails with a British twist (using gin, elderflower, cucumber…). Fashpolitico was less enamoured of the decor, but I loved it. Sort of like being in a funky ski lodge.

To keep a track on the places on this blog I have set up a Googlemap. I don’t pretend this will direct you to the most hip places in London right now, but at least you’ll see places that someone has been to and written up. If you agree or think I could not be more wrong, let me know! It’s a work in progress but it should be presentable by Sunday.

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On location: Dehesa (Soho, London)

On Friday night, I met my friend S from New York for a drink at Dehesa in Soho. It’s a cute little place on a street corner in Soho and is somewhere I have often passed and liked the look of – it has a brown/wood/warm look to it which is so inviting in this chilly London weather (plus an ambitious-looking terrace, given that it is still hovering around 2°C here). However, it always looks so crowded that diving spontaneously into the scrum has never really seemed like an option. However, I finally got organised and booked a table (*), and I am glad I did. We had a bottle of fizz to celebrate S’s return, and worked our way through the tapas selection.

A real bugbear of mine is when restaurants have a limited or uninspired selection of vegetarian food. I think it’s a good way to judge how creative the kitchen are. Well, Dehesa has got it right – lots of dishes for me to choose from and it was clear than a lot of thought had been given to the tapas on the menu. We had amazing fried courgette flowers stuffed with cheese and drizzled with honey, a lovely combination of flavours and textures, the soft cheese and honey complemented by the crisp batter. We also tried the salsify fritters with mushrooms (buttery, cheesy, delicious!) and amazing patatas frites – bronzed and spiced with paprika, served with pungent aioli and romesco sauce.

Given the excellent standard of the food and the convenient location (two minutes off Regent Street near Oxford Circus), I will be coming back here and trying the rest of the menu, and perhaps brave the terrace if Spring ever gets here.

(*) Dehesa operates a “return table” policy, so we had a place for two hours. Normally this is irritating, but as we were popping in for a drink and a light bite, I’m willing to overlook on this occasion. I do not like this policy, but it is almost inevitable when eating in central London.

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Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto

Risotto – simple ingredients, so it should be easy, yes? But my experience is that all too often, it is just not quite right, and the worst offenders are often restaurants. I’m looking for good flavour and nice texture, not porridge made with rice.

After lots of practice, I think I’ve nailed it. Here are my tips. If you disagree, let me know, but I think this works well: first, make sure you use arborio rice. I shudder when I think of my early student attempts using plain long-grain white rice! Second, actually follow the recipe and make sure you add the stock a little at a time – it makes a real difference. Third – cheat and keep it “dry” towards the end, then add a couple of spoons of cream at the end for a luxurious, creamy result.

For the risotto:

• 150g arborio rice
• 25g butter
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 1 glass dry white wine
• 1 litre vegetable stock
• 50g Parmesan cheese
• 100g mushrooms
• 100g asparagus
• 2 tablespoons cream

Gently fry the onion in the olive oil and butter for 5 minutes. We want the onion to be lightly coloured. Once ready, add the garlic and cook for another minutes.

Now add the rice and fry for 2 minutes, stirring all the time (if you don’t, the rice will burn). Add the wine, and it will bubble up. Reduce the heat, and allow most of the liquid to evaporate – you know it is gone when it looks “oily”. Now add to stock, a little at a time, stirring well after each addition, and allowing the risotto to cook and, in each case, only add more stock when most of the liquid has evaporated. This should yield a creamy risotto with defined grains of rice, rather than a rice “porridge”. Check the rice – it should be almost cooked (firm, but yields when you bite it and no hard centre).

With the last of the stock, add the mushrooms and the asparagus. Allow this to cook, again until most of the liquid has evaporated (you will find a lot of liquid comes out from the mushrooms). Add the Parmesan cheese, and cook for a further minute. Remove from the heat, stir through the cream, cover the pot and allow to sit for two minutes.

Serve with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan.

Alternatives: this recipe is quite adaptable. You can add anything you want in place of the mushrooms and asparagus – truffle oil works well, as do peas and mint, or just a good measure of saffron for a brilliant sunset yellow risotto.

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On location: Tina, We Salute You (Dalston, London)

All cooking and no socialising makes LondonEats a very dull person indeed.

So today we present the first “on location” post from LondonEats! Rather than a full-on food review, I’m going to ease myself into covering unfamiliar territory by starting with a friendly local coffee house.

While the coffee chains might appear to reign supreme in London, there is a healthy independent scene. Cue Tina, We Salute You in up-and-coming Dalston. This area was hailed as “the coolest place in Britain” by Vogue Italia, but take that with a pinch of salt – there are hipsters in abundance here, but it still has more “grit” than your average fashionista is probably comfortable dealing with.

Anyway, wrapped up for the cold and leaving my valuables at home, I headed out. It’s a fun little place, black and white decor with colourful, glitter decoupage on the walls. Coffee is great (good, strong, pronounced flavour which can be a relief after weeks of Starbucks) and the food it good. Just a simply bagel with melted cheddar was a great snack, so a big thumbs up that they are doing the basics well. There is also a selection of jams and various other goodies on the table to slather on your toast if you dig the communal vibe.

This is a chilled, friendly neighbourhood coffee place and a welcome addition to Dalston. The tube will be arriving in a couple of months, so it will be interesting to see how it changes and whether Tina will adapt. In the meantime, I’m quite happy to salute.

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Baba Ghanoush (Roasted Aubergine Dip)

When friends come over for a drink, I like to serve a something to nibble on. It is a bit of a Continental habit from years spent abroad – this can be as simple as cheese or nuts, but if I’m feeling creative, this can range all the way up to savoury pastries or a selection of dips.

I had two large aubergines from the local Turkish shop looking somewhat forlorn in the kitchen and some friends on the way over, so baba ghanoush was the obvious answer! This is a smoked aubergine dip from the Middle East, which is both luxurious and easy to make.

HOW TO MAKE IT

• 2 aubergines
• 3 tablespoons tahini
• 1 tablespoon mild vinegar or lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon yoghurt
• salt, to taste
• olive oil, to drizzle
• pomegranate seeds (optional)

Pierce the skin of the aubergines all over with a sharp knife. Burn the outsides of each aubergine over a flame or under a very hot grill. We want the “burnt” flavour to get into the flesh, so don’t be scared of getting them good and black.

Once the outside is charred, put the aubergines in a hot oven for 25 minutes at 200 degrees. Once cooked, place in a plastic bag or a sealed container, and allow to cool to room temperature.

Next, cut the aubergines open, scoop the flesh into a bowl (leaving behind the skin!) and add the tahini, vinegar/lemon (according to preference), yoghurt and salt and mix well. Leave overnight in the fridge to thicken and allow the flavours to develop.

Serve at room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Accompany with toasted bread.

WOULD I MAKE IT AGAIN?

Yes. This is a breeze to make, provided you can be organised. The one niggle is that it really is best done the day before, but this is something I would happily make on a Friday and eat over the weekend. I’ve also done it same day, and it still tastes really good.

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Pancake Day

I always find Pancake Day very exciting, as this is the one day in the year that you can legitimately sit down and enjoy a whole dinner of sweet things. While the Americans enjoy maple syrup and butter and the French tuck into jam, we Brits are adding sugar and the most lip-puckering lemon juice you can find. In my opinion, lemon and sugar is the best combination for pancakes, and is definitely worth trying. If you don’t find the juice alone to be enough, try zesting your lemons first, and adding the zest too.

I also like that everywhere has their own take on Pancakes. Over the years, I have been luck enough to try the variations in the UK, France (crêpes, galettes de bretagne), the Netherlands (poffertjes) and the USA, but today I’m making Scotch pancackes. These are like the American pancakes, but not as fluffy and a lot smaller (go figure!). The benefit of small pancakes is that you can have lots of them, each with a different topping. Also, there is no standing time (as for crêpes) so they are a doddle to make first thing in the morning for hungry houseguests.

To make the pancakes:

• 115g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
• 25g butter
• 1 egg
• 150ml milk

Mix the flour, baking powder and cream of tartar in a bowl, and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Next, beat in the egg and enough milk until the mixture resembles double cream (i.e. it should flow a little bit, but it should not be runny).

Heat a non-stick pan on a high heat, and once hot,  turn down to a medium heat and leave for a minute (*). Once the pan is ready, put spoonfuls of the mix in the pan (I put three in a large frying pan). Bubbles will form on the top. Once the burst (but the top of the pancake is still “wet”) turn the pancakes over and cook for a moment until they are also golden.

Enjoy with whatever you want. The Scottish way is to use butter and honey, but let your imagination run wild. And don’t forget the sugar and lemon.

(*) It is a myth that the first pancake never works. Follow this technique, and your first pancake will turn out just fine.

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Quick haloumi and tomato tart

Sometimes you can lavish time and effort on creating an intricate meal, and sometimes you want something tasty in an instant. A lot of people think that pastry falls into the “difficult” category, but this is not true! This tart is based on a cookery course I attended at Cordon Vert in Hampstead last autumn. It’s such a quick and easy recipe and a great way to use up whatever you have left in the fridge. You can also add other thinly sliced vegetables and any cheeses (works with hard or soft cheeses – try St Agur), or even use the basic pastry in sweet dishes. I find the olive oil works well with Middle Eastern desserts.

To make the pastry:

• 3 tablespoon plain flour
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• water

Mix the flour, oil and a little water in a bowl and mix gently until it just comes together. Put into cling film and leave at room temperature for 20 minutes. Done!

To make the tart: put the oven at 200 degrees. Roll the pastry out very thinly, and place on a baking sheet. Add very thinly sliced haloumi cheese, quartered cherry tomatoes and sprinkle over some freshly ground black pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden, remove from the oven, cut into slices and enjoy!

Couple of notes: as there is no salt in the dough, you may prefer to use stronger ingredients (hence haloumi). Also, I sprinked a little pomegranate syrup on the tart before baking to provide a little extra kick.

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New toy

Yay! My new whisk attachment arrived today, which is a big deal. My old one was broken just before Christmas, leaving me to make pistachio and orange blossom macarons by hand for a New Year’s Eve dinner – great sweets, but an aching arm. Looking forward to putting it to use very soon!!!

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Parsnip and Curry Soup

Still cold in London’s glamourous N16, so another soup recipe. This time it’s out of necessity – I had a few parsnips that looked less than fresh and someone in the living room complaining of hunger and that their need to study meant they could not even think of getting food for themselves.

If I’m cooking parsnips, then I reach for the curry every time. Parsnips and curry are a great combination. I like parsnips, but their sweetness and perfume can be a bit much in a savoury dish, so the curry helps and makes this a great winter warmer. Be heavy handed with the curry powder – you want it to have quite a bit of heat to it. This combination also had the desired effect of silencing the demands for food from the living room, which can only be a positive sign.


HOW TO MAKE IT

This one could not be simpler and takes about 15 minutes (plus cooking):

• 2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
• 1 large potato,
peeled and chopped
• 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
• 3 tablespoons of olive oil
• knob of butter
• 3 teaspoons curry powder
• salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 liter vegetable stock
• yoghurt or creme fraiche

Cook the onion for 5 minutes with the oil and butter over a gentle heat. Add the parsnips and potato, and cook for a further 5 minutes. You will need to stir frequently as the parsnips start to caramelise and will burn easily if left too long. Add the salt, pepper and curry powder and stir well. Cook for another couple of minutes, then add a liter of vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Once the vegetables are tender, liquidise the lot and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or yoghut and black pepper.

THE VERDICT

Another favourite (as mentioned, this effectively dealt with the cries for food from the sofa). One tip would be about the curry – if in doubt, add more curry. A perfect way to use up those less-than-photogenic root veggie and good when you’re not in the mood to measure carefully.

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Flapjacks

A quick post for a quick recipe. Still cold in London town (just less cold than last week) so I’ve been mixing up batches of flapjacks at the weekends. To keep things interesting, my most recent attempt benefited from the addition of a couple of handfuls of spelt flakes, some juicy sultanas and chopped apricots, and I replaced the plain old white sugar with muscovado. Great with a cuppa when you come in from the chill!

HOW TO MAKE IT

• 175g butter
• 175g sugar (any sort)
• 2 tablespoons of golden syrup
• pinch of salt
• 250g oats
• sultanas, seeds, nuts or dried fruit (optional)

Put the oven on at 190°C, and grease a 20cm baking tray or cake tin (ideally non-stick). Put the butter, sugar, syrup and salt (if using) in a pan. Heat gently until the butter is melted, and then boil for one minute. Add the oats (plus any “extras”) and stir well, then put into a tray, spread the mixture evenly, and bake for 20 minutes.

Once the mega-flapjack is cooked, let it cool completely, then turn onto a chopping board and cut into pieces.

WOULD I MAKE IT AGAIN?

Yes – in fact, I’ve made these twice again since I took the photographs. The spelt flakes were a great addition as they stay quite crisp and a some extra texture to the otherwise soft and chewy flapjack, and the muscovado added more depth of flavour. Now my creativity can run riot and I’ll see what nuts, dried fruit and seeds that I can find lurking at the back of the cupboard for next time…

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