Could the tielle be the next must-try street food? It’s an olive oil bread dough pie of octopus cooked in a spicy tomato sauce with garlic, saffron, paprika, white wine, ideally local sweet Muscat de Frontignan and eminently portable I’m fascinated by the tielle, as they are so singularly associated with Seté, a charming Mediterranean town , not unlike a Gallic Venice. The story goes that they were brought to the town by the Cianni family from Italy back in the 1930s though it is likely that the recipe derives from Spanish empanadas. In 1937 Andrienne Verducci opened the first commercial tielle operation and her grand-daughter Sophie still operates it today with the pastries being cooked, rolled out and made in one half of the shop.
This was only one highlight of a brilliant food tour by Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France which took in many of the most interesting artisan food producers in the market such as Arnaud of Brown Sugar millefeuille maker, Sophie who marinades her own olives, Frederic’s superlative class extra heritage tomatoes and vegetables. I learnt that monkfish is displayed belly up to best show off its liver necessary for preparation of bourride.
I was fascinated to understand how oysters are cultivated in the Etang de Thau: the baby oysters are cemented onto rods attached to “benches” which are lowered into the sea. As there is no current, the oysters grow especially quickly and become more plump. Of course, we tasted some oysters too, chewed to better appreciate their taste rather than swallowed.
Visiting Fromagerie Lou Pastrou whose owner Mr Cailhac’s family are one of only five Roquefort producers was another highlight. Nancy showed us the polite way to cut Roquefort in diagonals to ensure no-one gets too much of the salt crusted rind nor hogs all the creamy centre over a couple of glasses of Viognier named after Thomas Jefferson. We learnt too that Seté had become a critically important trading centre during Louis XV reign due to its position at the source of the Canal Midi where it meets the sea and many of the embassies had been in Seté rather than Paris, which presumably explained why Thomas Jefferson found himself there.
London’s first cooking school dedicated to paella is run by a group of exuberant chefs from Valencia and Columbia at the London Cooking Project in Battersea.
I was intrigued to hear the origins of paella are in the union of two cultures who settled in Spain. The Romans who brought the padella pan and the Arabs who planted rice in Valencia in 10th C. It is a lively class with a quick demo followed by hands-on cooking in a professional kitchen. They offer team building courses too.
For tapas we made double fried patatas brava with a wickedly chilli rich sauce and aioli using whole egg and a hand-blender very niftily to lift the mayo. The black rice paella brimming with squid and prawns was a toothsome, full-on flavourful dish. Good advice with practical explanations as to differences between risotto and paella and why the latter should not be stirred too much.
I learnt that the “socarrat” similar to “tadig” the crisp, caramelised bottom crust of rice at the bottom of the dish is venerated by the Valencians and how to ensure it is achieved. Each Monday evening class offers a different tapas and paella.
Dinner was highly sociable at a long table with much sharing and comparing of takes on the black paella.
I’d long wanted to visit May’s Malaysian supper club and was thrilled to finally make it to her latest deepest Bermondsey venue. Having spent time in Singapore I was already familiar with Peranakan cuisine, yet I enjoyed May’s explanation of the strong Chinese and Indian influences on Malaysian cuisine.
First up was the most fantastic satay sauce I’d ever tasted on a simple salad of green beans and potato. It was quite unlike any other I’d ever tasted with an impressive deep umami savouriness. May explained she started by making a paste of budu belacan (a fermented fish paste), garlic, chili, candlenuts for creaminess to which fresh peanuts and coconut milk are added. May should really consider bottling it!
Beef rendang of superb deep flavour with coconut, lemongrass, galangal was served informally almost hot dog style in a brioche. Swiftly followed by clams in a highly spiced, garlic, chili broth that just had to be eaten with the fingers. Better still as finger food were tamarind, one of my favourite flavours with its fruity richness, slathered prawns.
Serving all the dishes family style encouraged good conversation with fellow guests from Lithuania, Australia and Scotland. Our main courses were chili grilled mackerel, pork belly cooked long and slow and a stunning chicken kapitan of wonderful tenderness with a harmonious, thick curry sauce of lemongrass, galangal, fish sauce and lots of spice with coconut milk. I adored too the pineapple chili salsa for cooling the palate.
Pre-dessert was agar agar, like a firm jelly made from boiling palm sugar and coconut milk that splits as it cools making for a striking subtle sweetmeat, though some found its texture testing. Both palm sugar and coconut starred too in a dessert of sago pearls, a sweet and texturally unusual dish that I found immensely pleasing to make an almost flirty finish to an exceptional feast.
Galangal, lemon grass, chilli and fish sauce make for a pungent and exciting eating. It’s exhilirating to taste a new cuisine and I urge you to act fast to try London’s first Laotian pop-up in Victoria created by Saiphan Moore, chef/owner of Rosa’s Thai Cafes whose family roots are in Laos. After grazing on tiny well-spiced isaan spicy sausages, we shared an extraordinary salmon dish “pickled” in rice and fragrant yet earthy with herbs (dill and mint are favourites) besides lemon and fish sauce. Must-trys include seabass chargrilled in the tiny kitchen with a herby umami potent dipping sauce, and both Laotian egg plant and green papaya salad. All are fairly fiery yet with pleasingly zingy clean finish and I like that fresh raw greens and herbs are served on the side, undressed. Sticky rice in a banana leaf should be eaten by hand. Though the place is very simple and basic, the welcome is warm and the food a revelation. Hurry, it’s only open until 26 February when it becomes a regular Rosa’s Thai Cafe retaining several Laotian specials on the menu.
25 Gillingham Street SW1V 1HN 0203 813 6773 www.rosasthaicafe.com
Forza Win (ter) is the ultimate in what makes a pop-up that’s become permanent great. Its’ founder Bash Redford brims with warmth, hospitality and a passion for his ingredients that is truly infectious.
I love the way the Peckham warehouse is decorated with Neon signs and a random collection of found objects that couldn’t be styled.
From the frothy creamy take on g & t garnished with thyme to the warm punch (red wine and Campari) served with dessert every detail had been obsessively thought through yet delivered with consummate style.
There’s no standing on ceremony here. A beautiful well griddled romanesco cauliflower is placed proudly yet unceremoniously on the sharing tables with a knife stabbed into it plus a bowl of salsa rosso. We just break it up, dip and scoff – delicious. A large bowl of housemade fetucelle with masses of wild mushrooms and exceptionally moreish rosemary sourdough crumb is next up. Despite the warning that there is so much more to come we polish it off. A brick and nightlight arrangement is in place for the fonduta made with fontal, fontina and parmesan – tasty in a richly umami way though it doesn’t stay molten enough to dip the fantastically earthy and flavourful heritage carrots, aged Delicia pumpkin slices and heritage carrots. Platters groaning with porchetta stuffed with chestnuts and adorned with plentiful, luscious crackling and kale arrive next. Wood-roasting gives the pork a humdinger of intense flavour and the flesh falls away in tenderness. Can we really manage dessert too. Somehow appetites re-ignite for a spectacular pear semi-freddo with a pear puree topped with almonds, luscious, fruity and sophisticated in taste. If this is the future of dining, it is where I want to be.
£35.00 per head for full feast. Natural wines to accompany extra.
It’s refreshing to meet a chef and restaurateur who don’t believe they need to fall in line with food fashions yet deliver wonderful, hugely enjoyable food, sensitively balanced with an exceptional and unusual wine list. At Gastronhome on Lavender Hill, Damien Fremont, chef/co-owner and Christopher Nespoux sommelier/co-owner model their modest, homely restaurant on the ethos of legendary Lyon 3 Michelin chef Paul Bocuse and don’t take any shortcuts. The commitment to detail and to service is superb and it is gloriously French. Where else would you find a garlic snail croquette as an amuse?
Though subtle, miso aubergine partnered with smoked aubergine caviar and puree suggests a nod to Japan and Morocco.
Fish is superbly handled. Slow poached John Dory is delicately accented with an ethereal lemon verbena foam and rather acidic pickled sea lettuce. I adore the Silveni Cellar Reserve 2014 Marlborough New Zealand, a superb wine match and am tempted to purchase a bottle as it is available for off-sales.
A homage to mackerel is painterly, light and refreshing: the fish is marinated in soy and merely flamed and accompanied by pressed beetroot and turnip and watermelon with lime. Brilliant with a very special Viognier. Lamb is more traditional, a cutlet cooked to perfection with crisp skin, served with coco beans from Brittany, pea puree and a double butter, rich sauce.
Most spectacular of all is millefeuille (puff pastry is labour intensively made in-house and melts in the mouth) with almond cream, poached apricots and a fine apricot sorbet served with a vintage Limoux. It’s a perfect combination. What charms me most is the sheer professionalism, dedication and pride in the tiny – 20 seater – dining room. A great jazz play list with plenty of Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson helps too. It feels like a proper old-fashioned treat.
59 Lavender Hill, SW11 5QN 0203 417 5639 www.gastronhome.co.uk
The hunt for authentic granita led me to Iddu and what a discovery! The cafe serving exceptional Sicilian food is the brainchild of successful restaurateur Luca del Bono who was born on Lipari, one of the Aeolian islands, and brings huge passion to the venture. Almost all the ingredients are sourced from Sicily and the emphasis is on healthier takes of traditional dishes interpreted by chef Martina Zanini. So caponata has baked rather than fried aubergine that brings out the flavour beautifully with plenty of capers from Pantelleria and there’s tuna tartare with wild fennel pesto to start. Mesmerising mains are simple yet bursting with sunshine and flavour: taglioni with pistachio from Bronte that are vibrantly green and taste incredible especially accented with a little concentrated bottarga (dried and smoked cod’s roe). There’s swordfish involtini too – paper thin rolls of fish with orange, parsley and rosemary that sings of summer. Granita made on the premise is superlative: try pistachio, lemon or watermelon: refreshing and sophisticated. Save room too for cannoli (divine fried rolls of pastry with goat’s cheese ricotta) served with tiny bowls of pistachio, chocolate from Modica and almonds. There’s a mostly Sicilian wine list. Decor is blue and orange to encapsulate the sea and sun with tables made from Etna lava and tiled, copper lamps and masses of pictures of the Aeolian islands. It makes one want to book a flight straightaway.
44 Harrington Rd, SW7 3ND 0207 589 1991 www.iddulondon.com
Exceptional coffee defines Story Coffee, Sof Alam’s first venture and exemplifies the discerning attention to detail of what could be my blueprint for a perfect coffee shop. “Everything we offer has its own story and absolute transparency, hence the name,” says Alam. The wonderfully fruity cappucino is an Ethiopian blend by Square Meal roastery and there are guest roasters such as Berlin’s The Barn for fashionable Aeropress. Unusually milk is organic from Goodwood Farm. For the summer there’s affogato too (espresso and ice-cream) plus Silverleaf Green tea from Lalani. Smoky baked eggs with deep flavour, a punchy innovative mix with cavelo nero, tomato and chickpeas devised by guest caterer Tucktogether.com is wonderfully sustaining. Even more deletable are quinoa pancakes with roasted apple, wild flowers honey from Oliveology, whipped ricotta and toasted coconut. The plates are gorgeous, pale blue and handcrafted. The whole design of Story is appealingly Scandi with warmth and lovely touches including the wooden crates of pastries by Comptoir Gourmand. I can’t wait to return.
115 St John’s Hill, London SW11 1SZ 0207998 3303 www.storycoffee.co.uk
My fourth visit to The Dairy and as great as ever. The combination of utterly delicious, zingy fresh flavours, much from their roof top, and such laid-back service makes for really relaxed dining that is always more than the sum of its parts.
I can’t get enough of the bone marrow butter and am cool about it being perched on a pebble, unlike some critics. The sourdough is fabulous too. And a little pot of ultra rich chicken liver and apple mousse goes down a treat.
After snacks of deep fried anchovy and lettuce cups with sorrel granita, barely cooked cuttlefish with black garlic butter is sensational and tangy. Most enjoyable among “sea” dishes is monkfish with miso, samphire, peas and broad beans (pictured). Utterly moreish is aged, smoked beef served rare with ember cooked artichokes. Besides the favourite caramel chocolate dessert, I adore rhubarb mini doughnuts.
Next time, a visit to the deli is a must to pick up some terrines, charcuterie and pickles to take home. www.the-dairy.co.uk
Week started on a high with a Cava wine dinner tasting some of best Spanish cava in the world paired with dishes created by Elena Arzak at Ametsa with Arzak instruction. My favourite course was the pigeon prepared with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and grape must – sensational. Wonderful to taste again the cromlech made with manioc dipped in foie gras. Favourite cava was Recaredo 2006 Brut Nature Gran Reserva – aged 30 months+ a revelation. Also intrigued by Cava with Malvesia – subtly sweet and served with a chocolate pancake.
Lunch at Newman Street Tavern as excellent as ever with chef Peter Weedon excelling in thoughtfully produced food using the best producers. Incredible shrimp fritters with whole crustacea and sublime Galloway beef tartare were absolute joy. Fish cakes made with pouting showed Peter’s commitment to using all the catch from his favourite fisherman.
Meeting with lovely publisher Muna Reyal of Headline at suitably foodie Honey & Co over luscious rhubarb cheesecake.
Amused by cheese brand Castello’s invention of smorging as a new way of defining smorgasbord. Creatively brought to life by my favourite Scandi chef Trine Hahnemann who came up with some great matches enlivened by unusual drink combinations too.
The idea to combine a range of tastes including salty, sweet, sour and umami with balance of soft and crunchy textures. My favourites were Castello blue cheese & asparagus tart on spelt crust with Glebe Farm Spelt beer, Castello creamy blue with radishes and chives on crisp bread served with Bloody Bloody Mary beetroot and tomato juice, Castello Tickler with crisp parma ham and green tapenade or salami and green pea puree with an intriguing Earl Grey tea, lime and cucumber cordial. We finished with profiteroles filled with pineapple cheese with a ginger glaze matched with an intrigued egg coffee with a foam of condensed milk and egg. A really different treat.