Category Archives: Eating Out

Bologna – La Grossa

After a lovely long weekend in Bologna with Elix, I now understand why one of Bologna’s nicknames is “La Grossa” meaning The Fat One. The food is incredible and I could not stop eating! 

Bolognese food is simple, authentic, delicious and oh so fresh. It is the home of tagliatelle, tortellini, mortadella and ragu (the Bolognese never have Spaghetti Bolognese!). On every street corner is the freshest, most colourful selection of fruit amd vegetables I have ever seen including bright purple raddichio, beautiful artichokes, juicy tomatoes and lovely pears.


Elix and I spent the weekend trying lots of new and traditional dishes and whilst I wont be sharing any recipes in this blog, I wanted to share the experience as it as so fantastic!

The first traditional Bolognese dish I ate was Tortellini in Brodo – simply – tiny tortellini in a broth. The first registration of a tortellini recipe was im Bologna – thin, light pasta encasing pork loin and prosciutto and a little cheese. A common dish in Bologna simply serves these tiny pillows of delight in a clear, rich chicken broth. Serving in such a way enhances the taste of the tortellini and is a perfect winter’s lunch. 

I also tried pumpkin tortelli with ragu. The tortellini were sweet and when paired with rich ragu sauce made for a very tasty meal at a restaurant called Al Voltone. I will definitely be trying this dish at home.

 

Now to talk about the ragu – this is as Bolognese as you will get – always served with tagliatelle (the Bolognese don’t eat spaghetti with ragu) – the silkier sheets of tagliatelli pasta provide a better vessel for the sauce to cling to ensuring you get a tasty mouthful with every bite. Whilst I need to try out my own recipes for traditional Bolognese ragu, the sauce generally uses just tomato paste (no chopped tomatoes), carrots, celery, onion, pancetta and minced beef along with wine, stock and olive oil. This is to be cooked very slowly – upto 3-4 hours until a rich, tasty sauce has developed. The sauce is less red than we get at home and tastes less sweet but really is delicious with some (proper)  Parmigiano-Reggiano scattered on top. The one below was the best, eaten at Osteria dell’Orsa – a tiny, very busy restaurant in the Jewish quarter.


A dish we tried and loved was Cotoletta alla Bolognese and is the Bolognese equivalent of a Chicken Milanese. Here in Bologna – a thin pork or veal cutlet is covered in breadcrumbs and lightly fried adding local parma ham and parmesan to melt on top and serving with a light creamy sauce.  We ate at Il Tinello – a friendly, cosy yet lively restaurant with delicious food and wine and lovely traditional decor.


As I always do on any trip abroad I tracked down a good market where we could eat a traditional lunch. Piadina it was! A piadina is a warm sandwich of thin Italian flatbread encasing the filling. We had ours with mortadella (a Bolognese staple – pork sausage flavoured with whole peppercorns, pistachios and nutmeg) and pecorino – a salty sheep’s cheese. At the stall in the Mercato di Mezzo there were dozens of flavours to choose from – all showcasing the best of Bolognese and Italian produce.

Finally, we ate the best gelato I have ever eaten at a small Gelataria, south west of the centre. One of Elix’s friends had recommended La Sorbetteria and when I heard their signature flavour was bitter dark chocolate I couldn’t be stopped from marching through the rain to get there. The place didnt disappoint and my two scoops of Bitter Chocolate and Espresso, Mascarpone and Cacao made me a very happy lady! 

A final bit of news about the trip is that I tried my first espresso! We spent our first day of the trip with my dear friend Laura and her huaband Johannes. They live in Florence and came to meet us and experience Bologna too. After a lovely lunch of antipasti, pasta and Sangiovese we stopped for a coffee and a cake. Johannes explained to me how the Italians treat the espresso as a quick social drink – always to be consumed in the cafe (never takeaway!) in the afternoons (no milk in coffee after lunchtime is the Italian rule) and with a little sweet on the side. And so i came to enjoy my first espresso with a little bombolino (fried choux pastry filled with custard) on the side. I think I’m a convert – the coffee was rich and silky, not at all bitter and a lovely pick me up on the chilly afternoon! 

I would highly recommend Bologna it really lives up to its nicknames – La Grossa – the fat one, La Rossa – the red one and La Dotta the learned one – so much to eat, see and do!

New York, New York

Im going to keep this one short and sweet and full of brilliant pictures of some of the fantastic food we ate at some amazing restaurants.

I went to New York with Mum and Elix and after much research and planning we shortlisted the following restaurants as our “must-try” ones – this is what we found :

eggs and beans 100 acres

100 Acres – we went for brunch and I ordered the delicious eggs and beans which was flavourful and chilli-hot cassoulet topped with two poached eggs. Cool and relaxed we all enjoyed our first NYC meal!

 

 

 

green eggs jacks wife freda

 

Another lovely brunch spot called Jack’s Wife Freda – a small but quirky menu in this little cafe – my green eggs were gooey poached eggs submerged in a tasty shakshuka – a puree of herbs with a kick of chilli.

 

 

 

 

ginger scallion noodles momofuku smoked chicken ramen momofukushrimp bun momofuku

All of the pictures above are from the sensational Momofuku Noodle Bar – I am a big fan of David Chang (the owner) he has taught me new things about Korean food and flavours and after tasting his food I want to know more – dishes which seem so simple tasted insanely good – Elix said the Shrimp bun (far right above) is the best thing she has ever eaten – I would agree but it came a close second to the Smoked Chicken Ramen (centre above). The hour long wait to sit at the noodle bar was a small price to pay for such a fantastic, warming meal on a rainy New York day – i only wish Mr Chang would open one in London.

smoked salmon the little owl  A little restaurant endearingly names The Little Owl was the venue for brunch one morning before a day of shopping in Greenwich. I elected for the smoked salmon on top of mini kale and potato frittati with a dollop of creamy creme freche – something new and different to try  – this was delicious and il definitely be trying it at home over the holiday. You can see in the background of the picture Mum’s pancakes and berries which she loved – they were soft and  light and not too sweet complemented by juicy berries and sweet syrup.

turkey club cookshop

We ended our trip at The Cookshop for lunch and what a treat – I have shown a picture of Mum’s Turkey Club Sandwich – it was humungous and super tasty, Elix had a tuna melt and I had crispy fish tacos – an excellent way to end our trip and prepare for the long journey home.

Sunday Sharing Lunch at Ember Yard

As a Sunday treat last weekend, Elix and I went to the new restaurant by Ben Tish and the Salt Yard group – Ember Yard in Soho.
On one of the many recorded Saturday Kitchen episodes saved on our tv (i think i have about 15 still to watch), Ben Tish cooked a beautiful looking ceps and puree dish with a crumbed egg yolk on top and immediately i knew i had to try Ember Yard.
Sadly that dish wasnt on the menu on Sunday but i didnt mind because all of the dishes we tried were amazing – and we tried ten!
The concept of Ember Yard is much the same as Salt Yard, Dehesa and Opera Tavern – tapas style sharing dishes made with seasonal ingredients and presented beautifully. As a slight contrast to the others, Ember Yard combines both Spanish and Italian themes and flavours. So you can be eating padron peppers and iberico ham one minute and an italian charcuterie and cheese board the next.
We started with a couple of bar snacks – Elix’s favourite padron peppers which were chargrilled, bitter and juicy with a sprinkle of rock salt on top – just as she likes them! One ingredient which i have to order if i ever see it on a menu – anchovies – these were smoked and plump, presented on a block of charcoal – so refreshing to see them cooked a bit differently to the way i have had them so many times before which is marinated in vinegar,garlic and parsley.

Seabream carpaccio came next with blood orange, coriander root and bottarga (which is dried roe of either tuna roe or mullet) – this acted almost as an amuse buche – silky soft bream with a tangy citrus marinade. Onto the “meat and potatoes” we greedily opted for lamb cutlets with roasted aubergine and salsa verde as well as the sticky iberico ribs along with pork fat chips and chorizo ketchup and buttermilk parsnip chips drizzled with honey and sprinkled with manchego. I dont want to bore you all with a list of how beautiful it all was and have instead include some pictures. I can assure you that it was all packed with flavour and i would have happily had seconds of any dish.

EY  chipsEY bream carpaccio

EY lambEY parsnips
Onto the exciting part….dessert! Both Elix and I elected the bitter chocolate ganache with hazelnuts and salted caramel cream drizzled with more gooey salted caramel. In the interests of trying as much food as possible as any blogger should know, i made Elix pick something else! I certainly wasn’t giving up chocolate! She chose the pineapple dessert combining chargrilled pineapple, pineapple sorbet, yoghurt mousse, pistachio and fruity sauce. Both choices were at each end of the spectrum – one being hot, rich, oozy chocolate and silky sweet caramel and the other a lighter, refreshing duo of pineapple – very sweet and colourful.

EY chocolateEY pineapple
I cant recommend Ember Yard enough – we spent a rainy Sunday afternoon feeling as though we were in a busy European bar, bustling with people drinking wine, snacking on tapas and whiling away the day. See you there next Sunday!

Afternoon Tea – Cuban Style

Elix very kindly treated us to Afternoon Tea at Asia de Cuba last weekend and i thought i would blog about it as not only was it excellent value, extremely tasty, beautiful to look at – it was the most un-traditional Afternoon Tea i have tried in every sense of the word!
Going to Afternoon Tea is one of my favourite things to do whether it be traditional and quaint at the Athenaeum, Traditional Chinese style which i tried at the Grand Imperial or funky and cool at Sketch or the W Hotel.
We started with the kiwi, mango and strawberry appetiser which was a sweet and refreshing smoothy in an Alice in Wonderland style glass bottle. The bright colours and light, sweet taste reminded me of those rainbow sherbet straws we used to eat as children.

fruity appetizer
Asia de Cuba permit you to have two teas with the meal – one which compliments the savoury and one for the sweet. I elected the house blend Iron Buddha green tea which was light in colour and taste, earthy and silky. Onto the food – pulled pork mini sandwich with a sweet, sticky, chipotle sauce. For what i expected to be a stodgy piece of the tea this was nice and sweet and moreish. I moved onto the parmesan and tomato mini-scones with mojito butter – absolutely delicious! The lime flavoured butter gave a sharpness to the rich cheesiness and both Elix and i would have quite happily demolished an entire plate-full! Another highlight for me was the carrott and green mango mooli roll which was sweet and sour, and refreshing especially when dipped into the Asian style dressing. I followed this with the chicken and avocado spring roll which was lovely and creamy inside following the crunch of the pastry on the outside.
The savoury section of the tea was finished off with a light and tasty smoked salmon tart topped with a hard boiled quails egg and empañadas both beef and vegetable which came with a very spicy chilli sauce – treat with caution as this gave me quite a shock when i treated myself to a generous scoop!
After a little rest and a new helping of Oolong tea which had a more flowery aroma to balance with the sweetness of the second course, we moved on yo desserts.
A tangy key lime pie topped with a light and creamy soft meringue, and a warm cinnamon doughnut – slightly crispy on the outside with a gooey caramel centre inside started me off nicely. Next came the banana spring roll. I’ve tried these a few times at Tsunami and when i was in Hong Kong and i LOVE them – i find the softness, gooeyness and rich banana tastes perfect inside a light, crispy spring roll. This one was plain and so quite light, i do admit, i am partial to some chocolate either inside or for dipping! Finally, my favourite sweet treat, a chilli chocolate ganache topped with pistachio crumble. The ganache was rich and sweet at first taste but then your mouth is whacked (a nice, tasty whack!) with a sharp chilli kick. This isnt too harsh especially as the pistachio crumble element provides a nutty, sweet, almost creamy balance in both taste and texture.
As a refreshing end and palate cleanser one more ice cold shot of lemongrass and ginger tea was put on the table and was the perfect end to an amazing afternoon tea!

savoury bitsweet bit

A Christmas Miracle – we got a table at Dabbous!

Back in September i managed to book a table at the much raved about and notoriously hard to get into Dabbous in Soho. Elix, Bex and I went last night and it can only be described as 7 courses of culinary heaven.
Bex is leaving me to go to Colombia for 6 months and this was the perfect way to see her off and have a little pre- Christmas celebration of her now being Bex MSc aswell!
There are two choices at Dabbous – a 7 course tasting menu or a 4 course set menu. Naturally being the greedy pigs Elix and I are we elected the tasting menu which is possibly the best decision we’ve ever made – every single part of both the food and the whole experience was insanely good and Dabbous has definitely made it into my Top 5 meals ever.
For such a popular, fine food restaurant Dabbous has a very chilled and quirky feel to it – staff are informal and friendly and decor is bare-brick walls, exposed lighting and dark wooden furniture. With only about 30 seats its nice and intimate never feeling overwhelming or too busy and allowing us to take our time between courses and spend an hour after we finished eating chatting with our wine.
We started with juicy green olives and freshly baked seeded bread which came warm and in a brown paper bag. Bex and I shared an Argentinian Malbec (Bex is the only person i know who shares my love of very rich, spicy and heavy red wines), Elix went for a glass of the house white which was Casa Maria Verdejo Blanco from Spain – both were delicious and thoroughly enjoyed all the way through the meal.

bread bag

Course One arrived – muscat grapes and almond milk. A cold refreshing start to the flight – the chilled, creamy milk was poured over the sweet grapes and almonds providing a delicate palate cleanser.

muscate grapes in almond milk
Onto Course Two – the infamous, signature dish of lard on toast. For something which sounds stodgy and, il be honest, not particularly appealing it far surpassed the assumption. A thinly sliced, toasted piece of ciabatta topped with a delicate layer of creamy, buttery lard and shavings of truffle. Truffle was smooth and woody and entirely delicious.

lard on toast
Course Three was one of my favourites – the coddled egg. This was an egg shell filled with a soupy mixture of egg and thinly sliced mushrooms – a beautifully rich and warming course, presented in a bowl of hay, tasted and looked delicious.

coddled egg

Meal Four – Cod wrapped in Pine with a Honey and Turnip dressing. The cod is cooked in the thin pine piece to retain its moisture, when the pine parcel is opened the piece of cod inside was juicy, perfectly cooked and full of flavour. The sweet, sticky dressing was a beautiful accompaniment to the cod.

cod
The final savoury main was barbecued Beef with roasted onion and stichleton buttermilk. The lovely thing about tasting menus is that you try things you may not usually order and this dish for me was just that. Whilst i love beef i tend to order fish and seafood when im out and so this was a wonderful surprise and a rare treat. The beef was caramelised on the outside from the BBQ and melt-in-the-mouth delicious. The roasted onion was soft and sweet and a brilliant accompaniment to the strong, silky buttermilk sauce. A cooked stick of celery sprinkled with fine burnt breadcrumbs provided a crunch to the dish and we all polished off our plates wanting more.

beef
Onto sweet things now and Course Six – pink grapefruit with jasmine and radish. Thinly sliced circles of crunchy white radish were arranged in a rose shape in a little bowl and the jasmine infused pink grapefruit juice poured over at the table. The dish was chilled, light and refreshing, the jasmine was delicate and grapefruit nice and sweet and not too bitter as is sometimes the case with grapefruit. Elix said her palate was confused eating radish as part of a sweet dish but I loved every bite/slurp!

pink grapefruit
Final course (we didn’t want it to end) and Dabbous certainly went out with a bang! Chocolate and hazelnut Ganache with Basil moss and Sheep’s Milk ice-cream. Hands down the best dessert i’ve ever tasted (sorry Jason Atherton – your Pollen St Social Coconut Panacotta is now Second place). The dessert looked amazing – things on the plate didn’t taste as they looked and the mixture of textures and flavours was uniquely beautiful. A swoosh of dill sauce surrounded the silky smooth, rich ganache which was topped with a crunchy chocolate brownie on top of which sat a beautiful spoonful of basil moss. The creamy, refreshing ice cream sat with chocolate crumbs and all topped with edible flowers and greenery. Words cant describe how delicious this course was but il try – scrumptious, chocolatey, balanced, clever, pretty, brilliant, tasty.

chocolate and hazelnut ganache
As a final cleanser we were brought a tiny bowl of Japanese Peaches which gave a soft little burst of sweetness at the end of the meal.
I cant think of a better way to spend an evening than at Dabbous with two of my favourite people in the world – the best food and company and somewhere i cant recommend enough for a visit – if you can get a table!

The Chicken Shop

Those of you who know me will know i have only a couple of food dislikes and am working hard to man up and get over them! First and foremost used to be cauliflower which i now enjoy in curries (see earlier cauliflower curry post) and i reckon by next year il be all over it! I have a couple recipes im keen to try including cauliflower mac ‘n cheese and cauliflower puree. So thats the first one, my next food dislike which would feature on my food hell when i get invited to Saturday Kitchen (hint hint James Martin) is…..CHICKEN! I find it boring, dry, bland and would honestly cry if someone presented me with my biggest fear which is cheese stuffed chicken breast wrapped in bacon(an ex boyfriend cooked me this once – in fact, maybe thats where my hatred comes from?!). When people find out how apprehensive I am about chicken they ask why, arguing its inoffensive, versatile and cheap, quick and easy to cook. I guess i would always just prefer fish, seafood, beef and even tofu! I will eat chicken thigh especially when Elix makes a jambalaya, chicken pie or a chicken curry, and iv mentioned before that my comfort food meal is chicken in breadcrumbs, jacket potato and baked beans and there are some nice chicken recipes i do enjoy – Rick Stein’s chicken, courgette and sobrasada with butter beans and Bill Granger’s poached chicken curry noodle soup to name a couple but all in all i try to avoid it where possible whilst still being open to new recipes and new restaurants – i loved the roast chicken at Tramshed and am a big fan of a McChicken sandwich every once in a while!

Elix tried the new Chicken Shop in Toots last week and raved about it so much we went for Saturday lunch this weekend. The concept is simple – Chicken; either whole, full, or quarter and sides including chips, coleslaw, lettuce & avocado salad and corn on the cob. Simple!
Every year for as long as i can remember our family has holidayed in Quarteira on the Algarve in Portugal and there are two amazing restaurants there (both with the same menu and owners and across the road from each other) which we affectionately refer to as Chicken Shack 1 and Chicken Shack 2 – i had to check with my Dad to find out the real name which is Marufo 1 and Marufo 2 . Anyway, i diverge – back to the food …The only things on the menu at the Chicken Shacks are roast chicken, chips and salad or fish (bream/bass/sardines), boiled potatoes and boiled veg. In one holiday Elix counted she had eaten 6.5 chickens! Again – very simple but my family assure me the rotisserie prepared chicken is the best they’ve tasted- so much so that according to Elix no other chicken has ever come close….until The Chicken Shop! FYI – i usually have grilled bream and boiled potatoes (potatoes cooked in stock gives for a soft texture and slightly salty and flavourful taste and is amazing!).

Again – i diverge so back to the bright, sunny climes of Toots and the Chicken Shop. We sat at bar stools looking out onto the glamorous Toots High st and enjoyed the chilled atmosphere. We ordered a whole chicken (goodness knows why we thought we could eat it between the two of us especially as only a couple of hours before we had munched our way through breakfasts of eggs and smoked salmon for me and an egg and bacon bagel for Elix!) with chips and coleslaw. I stuck to the thigh and leg pieces as cant handle breast just yet and they were beautiful. Delicately grilled giving a light char with a sprinkle of rock salt on top, juicy (i refuse to say the word moist!) and with a light spice seasoning to them. Skin was crispy and salty, perfect when dipped into the hot sauce! Chips were stunning – crispy on outside, fluffy on the inside with a few extra crispy bits at the bottom of the bowl – they are coated with salt and possibly an extra flavour which we couldn’t put our finger on (sorry I’m clearly a terrible blogger unable to identify this, or just ask but i was too distracted in our quest to demolish the meal i didn’t get around to it!), coleslaw was light, creamy and crunchy – a brilliant accompaniment for when i tried the smokey sauce which has a kick from paprika, chipotle, cayenne and chilli.

chicken shop

Despite the fact that we were unable to finish our main course and took half a chicken home in a doggy bag we ordered apple pie and ice cream to share for dessert – Elix is adamant that its the best she has ever tried, whilst it was amazing, lovely and rustic served straight out of the oven dish, sweet, mushy and cinnamon-y, the apple pie we ate in Amsterdam still tops my list. One of my new years resolutions for 2014 (one of many!) is to attempt to recreate it so watch this space.

All-in-all our trip to lunch at The Chicken Shop was tasty, fun and greatly assisted in helping me overcome my fear of chicken and dispense of my notion that chicken is rubbish – so much so I have included my (and Elix’s) top 5 chicken recipes for any other chicken-haters out there who need persuading that Chicken isn’t all that bad!

1. Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes – Chicken with Sobrasada, Courgettes & Butter Beans

2. Nigella Lawson Kitchen – Crisp Chicken Cutlets (chicken in breadcrumbs)

3. Hairy Bikers Perfect Pies – Chicken and Wild Mushroom Pie

4. Bill Granger’s Everyday Asian – Chicken Curry Soup

5. Mahmood Akbar’s Pakistan section in “Curry” – Desi Murgh Curry (special chicken curry)

Hoi Polloi

Upon my return from holiday Elix and I decided to go out to a new restaurant in Shoreditch called Hoi Polloi. We have seen it recommended in lots of magazines and foodie publications and as Elix loves to try the new trendy places we thought we would give it a shot.

The restaurant has a lovely atmosphere, busy but felt spacious and waiters dressed in turquoise and pink sweaters ensured everything felt laid back and relaxed.

As usual I had already made my choices from the menu and it didn’t disappoint.

We elected to not have starters as the bread basket was yummy and filing enough and we both had our eyes on dessert so wanted to make sure there was room left for that!

My main was hake which came with baby squid, black pudding and cavolo nero. These are flavours I have never tried together and they were delicious. The black pudding and squid was almost stew-like which was a lovely rich accompaniment to the hake. Elix loved her main of skirt of beef which came with chips and an onion fritter. As I cannot resist anchovies we also ordered broccoli with an anchovy crumb which i could have eaten as a main dish and will certainly be trying at home!

ImageImage

Image

ImageLuckily we had room for dessert and I controversially decided to go for a couple of cheeses (i say this is controversial because i don’t usually like cheese too much and rarely eat it). I elected the tunworth and the crozier blue – i do enjoy blue cheese a lot and this went well with the creamier, nuttier tunworth. Both were served with a selection of crackers, one a thick biscuit and one a crunchy, seeded flat cracker and a beautiful, rich quince/fig chutney.

Image

Elix ordered the Chocolate Cambridgeshire Cream – i was too full to try any but she assured me it was delicious, accompanied by mint oil and hazelnut ice cream – give Elix chocolate and mint together and she is a happy girl!

We LOVED Hoi Polloi and definitely want to go back – the menu is packed full of lovely dishes with unusual flavour combinations, service was brilliant and the restaurant itself is a great place to be – warm, welcoming and fun.