Saturday, 13 September 2014

What Joanna Ate Top 4 September 2014

Figs - I didn't use to be very keen on fresh figs. Just childhood memories of fig roll biscuits. Squidgy and sticky in the middle, kind of crumbly outside, in the rather squashed roll shape.  I haven't had these for years, and the plump dark purple fresh kind are now a favourite. If perfectly ripe, crunchy seeds, beautifully fragrant (I love the scent of fig trees - especially Diptyque's Philosykos).  They are great in salads, paired with tangy feta or a soft goat's cheese, or with prosciutto on slices of toasted sourdough.  For sweet, they are excellent with bitter dark chocolate, roasted with honey and vanilla, or anything toasty almondy (a fig frangipane tart would be perfect).  September is perfect season for them, so look out for them now.

Pizza Locadeli - A little alliteration for somewhere to eat this month, with a pop-up pizzeria place. The beautifully plush Italian Locanda Locatelli is closed for a refurb until October, but for three weeks Giorgio and Plaxy Locatelli are running a temporary restaurant, nearby on Blandford Street.  More pared back, the menu will include wood-fired pizzas, pastas and other simple Italian dishes, with a bar upstairs.  Get in there quick, it sounds deliciously relaxed with I'm sure fabulous food, but only until the 28th September.

Mission - The couple behind the Hackney Road wine bar Sager & Wilde now have a second site in Bethnal Green (just up from the tube station).  It’s penned as a Californian wine bar and kitchen, with brunch and dinner menus (their first site is more a bar with bar snacks).  It opens proper on Monday 15th following the soft opening, and the sample menus look very good, with some rather Italian dishes (including duck pappardelle, octopus with farro, rabbit with polenta, pancetta and girolles, and bites of nduja arancini). There is of course a wide wine choice, with many by the glass (and bar snacks if you just want to pop in for a drink).

Oysters – Now there is an R in the month, the season has begun for native oysters.  I’m going to head to Wright Brothers (either Soho or Spitafields), or to the oyster bar at J Sheekey.  Just choose your garnish.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Dukes G & Tea (and a martini in Dukes Bar)

Yesterday’s G & T was a little different.  Rather G & Tea.  A dainty cup and saucer of tea-infused gin (choose between black vanilla or earl grey), with a splash of tonic syrup and a slice of lemon.  It’s part of the special afternoon tea at Dukes, tucked away in the quiet luxury of the Mayfair Hotel's rooms.

The first cup was excellent alongside the neat sandwiches, with a perfect cucumber and a fantastic coronation chicken (and I’m usually suspicious of the curry/chicken/fruit/sandwich mash-up).  Then the cake stand with a second (even stronger) cup, with the top tier including a teeny, sharp lemon meringue tart, light chocolate mousse, mini panna cotta and squidgy carrot cake.  The stars were the doughnuts below, the proper kind filled with jam, rolled in lots of lip-licking sugar, most importantly still warm.  The scones were toasty too, just not as fluffy as some, but lots of jam and clotted cream for slathering on top.

It’s a lovely (boozier) take on the classic afternoon tea.  At £35 per person, it’s not quite as much as the showier Ritz for example, but I liked the smaller rooms, and it's all a little more understated.  We weren’t at all rushed, as with extra sandwiches, just beaten by the sweet things, and a proper hot cup of tea, we were there for three or so hours.  While it’s still warm (ish), nab a table in the little covered courtyard, complete with Dukes blankets.

Then to the bar, which is more than a little famous for its martinis.  There’s a menu, but we asked for Alessandro (head bartender, sharp in his white jacket, and charming to boot) to come and suggest.  After giving him a few likes and dislikes, he came back wheeling a trolley laden with bottles and garnishes, making our drinks by the table. 

Mine was a fabulously savoury vodka martini, complete with white truffle and a shiny green olive inside.  The glasses are frozen, but no shaking or stirring, so rather strong (no dilution).  You are apparently only allowed two, which is probably safest (especially at £18+ for a martini).  A very special cocktail experience.

Dukes Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 6 September 2014

28 hours or so in Madrid

A work trip this week left me with a spare evening in Madrid.  The city still fiery hot; a bit more summer away from creeping London Autumn.

One evening was still enough for a small scale hunt for excellent tapas.  A short post, but a few of my favourites as suggestions to find delicious little plates in the city.  I headed to La Latina, the snaking Calle Cava Baja packed with bars – a good place to start. 

Sanlúcar, tucked up Calle de San Isidro Labrador, a couple of minutes from the end of Calle Cava Baja, was a brilliant find.  I asked for recommendations and went with them.  Partly because one was new to me and sounded potentially rather weird (deep-fried sea anemone), and because the other was a prawn fritter (I had spotted the crisp discs on the next table).  The waiter has said the first was quite strong (read very fishy) – he was sure I would like them if I liked oysters.  

Fried sea anemone at Sanlúca
The sea anemone were crispy outside, strangely soft inside – a little like squishy deep-fried oysters.  Definitely interesting, and tasty in moderation (a whole plate beat me).  The second, the prawns bashed out, fried into a frilly circle.  The other dish sounded too simple, but a plate of boiled potatoes, very good tuna, spring onions and lots of olive oil was beautiful.  You just need the very best ingredients, and the right touch.  All of this, with a basket of little crackers, olives and a chilly Manazanilla sherry was only about 13 euros.

My other tip is El Tempranillo, on my way back along  Calle Cava Baja. The wall behind the wooden bar lined with wine bottles, so I didn’t try and choose, just asked for a nice glass of red.  Along with a plate of sheep’s cheese (I think it was manchego).  Pretty unbeatable match (with the wine about 2 euros to boot).

Mercado de San Antón
Terrace at Mercado de San Antón
I also visited Mercado de San Antón, a modern alternative to  Mercado San Miguel, and just next to Chueca station.  Not the same bustling, beautifully gleaming food and counters, but worth a wander, and the roof terrace was a good evening drink spot, looking out onto the city.

The next day full with work, but a chance for lunch at the relatively new Otto.  It’s a beautifully golden glossy space, with excellent food.  I didn’t see the menu which was chosen, but lunch included tangy Gazpacho with salty Iberico ham, a deliciously creamy/cheesy rice dish, sea bass (I think) with sweet potato and a light cheesecake mousse to finish.  The swish bar also perfect for drinks in the Salamanca area of the city.

Soon after, back to London, writing up lists on the plane of September things to do and eat.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

5 of my favourite restaurants for eating outdoors in London

I’m writing this at the tail-end of August.  Fingers crossed for a bit of an Indian summer, with a few more chances for outdoor eating.  Here are a few of my favourite spots to dine outside in London, from the very sleek to the bit more casual.

Beef carpaccio with black truffle at Toto's
Lobster tagliolini at Toto's
Toto’s – Toto’s is tucked away in Knightsbridge, the entrance discreetly off very smart Walton Street.  It hides a beautiful terrace in the middle of the grade II listed building, with elegant umbrellas and crisp white linen.  The restaurant reopened this year after a two year refurbishment, and along with the glossy look, there is a fantastic Italian menu.  The home-made pasta is excellent, especially the ricotta ravioli and lobster tagliolini.  I started with the carpaccio with generous black truffle shaved on top – with truffle and lobster, try and go if you’re not footing the bill.

Grain Store – Grain Store has lots of tables out onto Granary Square (as part of the redeveloped area of King's Cross), next to Central St Martin’s and the canal.  Bruno Loubet’s menu promotes vegetables to the stars of the plates, with the meat or fish more of a garnish.  A great fresh approach.  Along with the food, try the cocktails (from Tony Conigliaro, of 69 Colebrooke Row and the Zetter Townhouse).

Sushi at Sushisamba
Sushisamba – Not just outside, but outside on the 38th and 39th floor of the Heron Tower, with rather impressive views.  Plus an exciting ride in the lift first.  In the summer the outdoor terrace of the restaurant is first come first served – rather special for surveying the city, over their menu that mixes Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian rather smoothly.  The rather unique sushi combinations are very good, along with the mixture including different ceviche and meat, fish and veg on their robata grill.

Kingly Court – Not quite one restaurant, but a location with a few option outside, slap bang in the middle of busy central London (usually tricky for alfresco food).  A few recent openings have given this courtyard more of a draw, with my favourites including the second Pizza Pilgrims (including pizza fritta and arancini), Shoryu Ramen for a noodle fix, alongside Wright Brothers (one of the best places for seafoodin London).

Pork spare rib steak at Blackfoot, Exmouth Market
Crab at Bonnie Gull, Exmouth Market
Exmouth Market – Another location I know (bit of a cop-out rather than choosing 5 restaurants).  But Exmouth Market is really one of the best eating streets.  Tables spill out onto the street, always bustling when it’s warm.  Head to Moro for delicious Moorish food, with little sister Morito next door for tapas (both have a couple of tables outdoor if you bag them early).  For brunch, Caravan is best (including their own coffee beans), for all things pork it’s Blackfoot (the spare rib steak is deliciously tender), and for all things fishy, the excellent Bonnie Gull

Sunday, 24 August 2014

5 of my favourite London tapas bars

A little update to my favourite tapas spots.  Mainly to include the photo of the rather beautiful Barrafina stuffed courgette flower.  When I compiled the list before, I hadn’t made it to Barrafina, but after rather faultless tapas at the second branch just off the Strand, it had to be included.  I still love the other places, most for tapas in the Spanish way perched on stools around a bar, or some where you can settle a little longer.

Jose –Jose is tiny, just stools and standing.  It’s owned by Jose Pizarro, with his restaurant Pizarro down the road on Bermondsey Street.  The menu changes daily depending on what’s good – try and sit at the front, watching the chefs and legs of ham.  They have an excellent sherry selection to go with the delicious tapas.  You must have a plate of croquetas, and the boquerones (rather giant marinated white anchovies, less scarily fishy than the smaller dark kind).

My version of Morito's Borani (from their cookbook)
Morito – The little tapas bar sister of Moro on Exmouth Market, with more of their fantastic Spanish/Moorish food.  The menu has tapas favourites along with fragrant, spiced dishes (some things stay, with lots changing seasonally).  I usually have the fried chickpeas and the beautifully cerise Borani (beetroot dip with dill, walnuts and feta).  The Morito cookbook is also now out, for recreating at home, but missing the buzz of the tiny room spilling out onto the cobbles of Exmouth market.

Salt Yard – I’ve been a number of times, and it’s consistently excellent.  There is more of a bar at the top, along with the restaurant seats.  The cured meats and cheeses are very good, but try all the other dishes, especially their trademark dish of courgette flowers stuffed with goat’s cheese and drizzled with honey. Try their sister restaurants - Dehesa, Opera Tavern and Ember Yard (which I particularly like).

Copita – Tucked away on D’Arblay street, this is a great spot for a drink and snack when you’re in Soho.  For a change try the ajo blanco – the cold almondy, garlicky soup.  They often also have churros for something sweet, which will always win me over. 

Stuffed courgette flower at Barrafina, Adelaide Street
Barrafina – I’ve already mentioned rather splendid courgette flowers and croquetas above, but do try the two at Barrafina (either the Soho stalwart, or the new Adelaide Street addition).  The new site has perfect crab croquetas, squidgy inside and crisp outside. Look out for their weekly changing board of specials – this included a delicious plate of asparagus, romesco sauce and manchego last time I went.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

What Joanna Ate's London Lists

Just a little post this Sunday, with a bit of a re-jig of the format of What Joanna Ate.  If you look up, there’s now a tab at the top, holding all my lists.

It’s going to be a bit more of a direction going forwards.  Everyone loves a top list, with easy-digestible tips to work your way down.  I’m re-working a few old lists (updating with new places), and working on quite a few more.  It might be anything from the best place for a cold-pressed juice to the most soothing fry-up for a hangover, all dotted around London.  

I would love to hear any list needs you have, so do send over your suggestions, and I’ll get working on it.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Pig, Brockenhurst

My last post started with all things birthday.  I’m dragging out the celebrations past the day, with a little writing in-between from earlier this week. Out of London this time; to the pony-packed New Forest for a rather idyllic birthday stay at The Pig.   It’s billed as a restaurant with rooms, complete with very beautifully stocked walled kitchen gardens, nestled in the forest just outside Brockenhurst.  There is also the town brother (The Pig in the Wall in Southampton), and the recently opened outposts on the beach (Dorset’s Studland), and near Bath.

They might describe it as a bit shabby chic, but everything is artfully just so.  All muted shades and fabrics, old wood and rows of slightly battered hardbacks along with rows of Hunter wellington boots, the rainbow of colours to borrow. The room (ours was one of the 'comfy rooms' - there are 26 in total) was equally smart yet relaxed, with giant wooden sleigh bed, pistachio leather Roberts radio and luxe bathroom (smart coffee-coloured robes too).   

The kitchen garden is a maze of any kind of fruit, vegetable and herb you could possibly reel off.  All neat rows and labels, with beautifully moody dark cavalo nero, jewel-stemmed kale and teeny tiny alpine strawberries among the mix.  They even have a cage of quails. Who knew what a quail looked like.

A big part of the menu is shaped by what’s growing, with much from their gardens, smokehouse, pigs, chickens and the little quails, nearby foraging.  The rest is all sourced from within 25 miles.  Perhaps more important the menu was full of delicious sounding things.

After a drink in the bar (complete with the drinks menus all tucked inside National Trust Pig Keeping books), we started with garden herb gnocchi, crisply crumbed with pea and mint pesto and broad beans and pancetta (£6 for the small size of the dish).  We also shared a small plate of the crispy courgette flowers, stuffed with ricotta, delicious inside the crunchy batter (it’s by far the best way of using this garden delicacy), on top a sunny yellow fennel mayonnaise (also £6).

It only felt right to have some pig for main course.  Since the slow cooked pork shoulder and cauliflower with agretti and mustard (£16) was already picked (you can’t both order the same thing), I went for the other pig dish, with the Bath Chap (£15).  I knew it was a pig’s cheek of sorts, but thought a lovely nugget of the meat. Instead, what arrived was pretty much half a pig’s head.  Complete with teeth.  I’m not squeamish, but I don’t really want my dinner smiling at me.  But pretending they weren’t doing so, under the perfect crackling the meat was very tender, and lovely with the hay roasted carrots and apple sauce on the side.

From the puddings, a perfect honeysuckle burnt cream, with plums tucked under the glassy sugar topping (£7).  Before walking the 30 seconds to our room, and to a very deep sleep.

The attention to detail about the place was there at breakfast too.  It’s not included in the room rate, but for £10, you have free-reign of the cold things piled on a table in the middle of the conservatory restaurant.  This included homemade muesli, granola (two kinds) and cakes, deliciously bowls of poached fruits (the pears especially), excellent cured meats and cheeses, juices, pastries.  There’s even a row of pastel shaded Dualit toasters for your sourdough bread.  For £15 you can also add something hot.  

The selection, especially after the night before dinner, defeated us, so we packed up for the journey home, after a very good amount of pig.  I didn’t feel like saying goodbye at the pig sty though after eating their friend’s head - perhaps a pig too far.