Thursday, 24 July 2014

Barrafina Adelaide Street, Covent Garden

My search for best tapas is often judged by humble-looking little crispy croquetas.  They must have a golden crunch on the outside but still be perfectly soft inside, whether studded with salty ruby ham, flakes of salt cod, or gooey with black squid ink. 

The dish of two crab croquetas was one of the first things to arrive at lunch last week at the newly opened Barrafina on Adelaide Street (just up from the Strand, just a few down from the lovely Terroirs).  It’s sister to the usually packed Soho favourite.  This second site has the same seating along the bar, the metal top and stools snaking down the room, perfect for watching the cooking in front of you.

V and I were sat just in front of the glass-fronted croquetas fridge, all neatly crumbed and lined up.  The crab kind were superb (two for £4.50).  The colour and depth of flavour of the brown meat, with threads of the white meat mixed through – just the right squidginess inside.  A brilliant start with the chilly glass of rose, alongside the Manzanilla olives (£3) and black blistered padron peppers (£5).  I even got a hot one, in the game of pepper roulette.

There’s a blackboard chalked up with the specials.  From this we picked asparagus with romesco sauce and salty shaves of manchego cheese (£6.80), and razor clams (not chewy at all), spiked with lots of herbs, garlic and lemon (two in their shells for £6.50).  I watched the cooking of tortilla in the mini saucepans on the plancha across the bar – we had the option with prawns and mushrooms (£7), just runny in the middle as it should be. 

Along with croquetas, something else fried was one of my other favourites.  Stuffed courgette flowers are a very beautiful thing – slim tender stem with the crunch of batter around the dainty flower, stuffed with light, airy goat’s cheese.  They are £7.80 each – you definitely need one each,  I could probably eat a whole pile of them.

From the desserts, I tried to be virtuous with the summer berries and marjoram (£6.80), but it did come on crunchy sugary shards and swirls of cream, making it slightly less so, but deliciously sweet and light still.  The other plate was two super-sugared ring doughnuts, with a pot of dark, glossy chocolate sauce (£6.50).

I have never quite made it to the original Barrafina, despite it being one of the most consistently packed Soho places.  They are definitely some of the best places for tapas in London, and I would go for the croquetas alone – the crabby sort in Covent Garden, or the ham croquetas on the menu at Frith Street (I’m sure they are just as fabulous).  They don’t take bookings, so turn up nice and early.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

What Joanna Ate Top 4 July 2014

It’s hot and sticky.  London is in the middle of a rather sultry heat, with moody yellow skies full of storm to boot.  It’s therefore finally summer in the city, and I have picked my top tips for eating/drinking in July.  A much-needed ice-cream post will come soon too, to help you cool off.

Barrafina Adelaide Street – The first of my hottest new spots of the month, opened on the 7th of July.  The Hart brothers have added a second Barrafina to their first tapas bar in Soho on Frith Street, along with Fino restaurant in Fitzrovia.  The Soho branch is always packed, so expect the second to be just as popular, with perfectly executed tapas classics and weekly changing specials chalked on the blackboard.  You can’t book, so turn up early one lunch or dinner.

Lima Floral Street – A second, new second site opening for you.  I haven’t been to the original Lima on Charlotte Street, but photos of the Peruvian food look colourfully beautiful, and much praised by most of those who have eaten there.  And I do really love a good Pisco Sour.  The Floral Street branch is split into a 60 cover restaurant and a ‘piqueos bar’ (with small plates for sharing).  They are in soft-opening at the moment, with the official launch date of the 23rd next week.

L’Anima Café – A final new opening for July is the more casual next-door sibling to L’Anima, tucked in EC2. The new all-day spot has a bar, restaurant and deli, with their menu rather Southern Italian inspired.  The menu includes pizzas, delicious sounding antipasti (Puglian burrata, roast peppers and anchovies is calling me), primi and secondi (think Hunter rabbit stew or Tagliata).  They are open Monday to Friday at the moment – I’m going to try and make it there next week.

Peaches & Nectarines – After the restaurant tips above, here are a few thoughts for the kitchen in July.  I’ve written about sweet berries already, so this month it’s the equally very seasonal peaches and nectarines.  When ripe, both are wonderfully juicy and fragrant, either the peach with its softly furry skin or the nectarine, all shiny pink/orange.  They are lovely raw with just a little chopped mint and lemon zest, but equally good cooked.  I like to halve, stuff and roast – my latest favourite is to squeeze a loganberry in the hole (or raspberry if you can’t get hold of some), then top with a mixture of ground almonds, vanilla and a little maple syrup.  Both love almonds in any form – scrunched up amaretti baked inside works well.  Savoury-wise, they are great in salads, especially with creamy mozzarella or salty feta, and a good drizzle of peppery olive oil.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Palomar, Soho

The bar’s often the best spot in a restaurant.  More buzzy than a table tucked away or crammed next to the toilets.  It’s the perfect place for recommendations/a little playful flirting/probably more booze due to the bartender/drink proximity.

I loved last Saturday night at The Palomar, made distinctly fun by sitting at the shiny zinc bar at the front (with the tables in the area behind at the back).  It’s not just the bar, but also the open kitchen – perfect for watching the cooking, guessing which plates being finished are which from the menu.  The chefs and bartenders come over to chat, give little tasters, with no enforced jollity at all (you can imagine staff training for some places, telling everyone to HAVE FUN.  Here it just seems they are enjoying their night). 

The food is very good too – they describe it is as modern day Jerusalem (it’s the sister restaurant of Machneyuda in the city), with the menu split into Nishnushim (the bread/olives/little snacks), Raw bar and the Stove/Josper/Plancha.  Another place with more small plates for sharing.

The Kubaneh bread (£5) was pretty special.  The Yemeni pot baked bread comes in a tin, all toasty and warm, with a little pot of tahini and velvet tomatoes (a super fresh, silky tomato puree).  The snail’s curl was a little croissant/brioche like, made with enriched dough and lots of butter layered when it’s rolled up.  I would have been happy with just this, dunking the flaky bread into the tomato pot.

We started the rest with The Daily 6 (£12), the assorted mezze in dinky pots.  The six included creamy home-made labneh, thin slices of sharp tangy with goat’s cheese, nubbly lentils, swiss chard with feta and aubergine two ways.  First Sima’s way (the head chef’s grandmother’s recipe) sliced, the other blackened on the Josper with the soft insides scooped out and mixed with tahini.

We skipped the rest of the Raw Bar (which did have a lovely looking tartare take, with bulgur, pine nuts and tahini, and Moroccan oysters with coriander and lemon), and went for a mixture from the hot stuff.  First, the Shakshukit (£9.50), described as a deconstructed kebab – the minced meat came under yoghurt, yet more tahini (you're in trouble if you don't like the sesame paste), a tapenade and green sauce.  Not recognisably kebab-like, but richly delicious, especially scooped up with the fluffy pitta bread.

I love the combination of scallop and Jerusalem artichoke (I sometimes top a soup made with the knobbly vegetable with a few seared), and the two together with swiss chard and cured lemon beurre blanc worked perfectly (£11.50), with the crunch of a hazelnut tuille. The final was a pot of polenta, asparagus, mushroom, ragout, parmesan and truffle oil (£9) – the chef who presented it to us, opened it up, with the delicious smell of the cheese and truffle oil.  I'm still not a lover of the corny comfort food (apart from in the form of shrimp and grits at The Lockhart, which I could eat every week), but maybe that's just me.

I'd go back just for the bar quips on another Saturday night, but also to try the dishes I missed. Two is best number sitting at the bar (five of you in a long line doesn’t really work), and there’s a limit to how much two can eat (especially if one of you wolfs down the whole bread).  You can book in the dining room, with the bar kept for walk-ins.  The only problem is it is a a little too narrow a room, with people waiting behind you at the side.  Just sit up straight to help avoid the barging.

The Palomar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 6 July 2014

How to order your perfect Martini

This post is a break from food, with some hard liquor instead.  Lots of people are a little scared by cocktails where you can actually taste the spirit.  It’s a real shame – with the right care in the making, and using quality ingredients, the booziness is the joy of a brilliant cocktail.  The martini is one of the classic, and surely one of the most classy, cocktails, perfectly strong with booziness.  But most people are a little unsure when it comes to the process of ordering one – should it be wet/dry, shaken/stirred, or some even a little puzzled about exactly what goes into it in the first place.

The lovely people at Belvedere asked us to their bar for a little martini ordering education, with the help of their bartending gurus/cocktail consultants at Heads, Hearts & Tales. It was perfect way to learn more about the drink, and to feel confident to go into a bar and order properly, to our individual favourite martini spec. 

You can of course have a gin or a vodka martini, but this being with Belvedere, we go for vodka martinis, using their excellent classic rye vodka.  They split the choosing into four broad areas, to help with the ordering:

Shaken or stirred
As you know from Mr Bond (he needed a mention somewhere here), you can have your martini shaken or stirred.  Both will chill the drink and dilute.  I was a little naïve, as I thought shaken would dilute more.  In fact both should dilute and chill to the same level, but the different methods impart a different finish to the drink.  Shaken was a little more spiky, stirred a little more of a creamy, smooth finish.  I went for shaken, as I thought it brought out the flavour of the vodka a little more.

The type of vermouth
The type of vermouth of course affects the finished taste, depending on which kind of the fortified wine is used.  Martini cleverly branded theirs with the ever-lasting link with the drink name, with other well-known brands like Noilly Prat.   We tried two different kinds of vermouth – the first the golden sweet (technically not actually a true vermouth) Lillet Blanc, and the more savoury herby Dolin Dry.  I liked the latter, especially for combining with an olive (I was already thinking of the garnish). A great tip is once the bottle is opened make sure you keep it in the fridge and use quickly – it should definitely not be kept on a warm bar shelf (don’t order from a bar storing it up there).  

Wet, dry or extra-dry
This refers to the ratio of vodka to vermouth, with wet 3:1 vodka to vermouth, dry 6:1 and extra dry 10:1.  The ratio obviously affects how strong the taste of the vermouth is in the final drink, and you may want to alter, depending on the vermouth you choose.  I decided I preferred dry as opposed to wet when we tried a version with the Lillet Blanc, but liked it wet for the Dolin Dry.

The classic choice is between an olive or a lemon twist.  Martini is an aperitif, so a drink to be had before dinner - a lemon twist leaves a cleansing fresh citrus finish, but I like the salty edge of olives.  Go for one or three pierced on the stick (odd numbers for aesthetically pleasing purposes).

So I ended up with a shaken, wet martini made with Dolin Dry, finished with three shiny olives.  Truly delicious.  Especially after trying lots of mini glasses of vodka/vermouth/martinis.  

I know what to order now.  You’ve got to judge the bar right – you need the sort of place with the knowledge and skills to make it perfectly.  If you fancy learning a little more on the drink/drinking lots of martinis, they will be opening a Belvedere Martini Experience Bar on 1st August for the month at the Royal Academy of Arts as part of a ‘Legends of the Martini’ exhibition launching at the same time. 

I’ll leave you with my favourite martini quote by Dorothy Parker: “I like to have a martini, two at the very most.  After three I’m under the table.  After four, I’m under my host.”  Just remember a few can be a little lethal.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

What Joanna Ate Top 3 June 2014

I’m back to my top lists.  I’m just sneaking in there with my top three for the month of June.  It’s been a bit manic this month with the impromptu trip to Brazil a few weeks ago, but I’m nearly caught up with my blog backlog, and there’s always July to enjoy the below suggestions.

Strawberries and Raspberries – It’s finally the time for the jewel-like berries grown in the UK.  Strawberries are very Wimbledon appropriate this week, but I like them in other ways apart from the usual cream.  If your strawberries have gone a bit squishy, or aren’t the sweetest, roasting is a brilliant way to intensify the sweet stickiness (perfect with pancakes/waffles/French toast).  I’ve got a bit more of soft spot for the seedy, sometimes sharp, raspberry though.  I’m using them in my breakfast overnight oats (with almond milk and sunflower seeds) at the moment, or they are great in a simple salad with lamb’s lettuce and a crumbled mild goat’s cheese or goat’s curd. 

Fischer’sChiltern Firehouse is the place to be (or try and get a table at) in Marylebone, but Fischer’s, the new place from Chris Corbin and Jeremy King (of other celebrity stalwarts The Wolseley, The Delaunay etc),  is now five minutes away on Marylebone High Street.  It’s got a classic Viennese cafe menu, and I’m sure the sleekness and polish of their other restaurants – all schnitzels or sausages for dinner, Gröstl for breakfast (a kind of Austrian hash with paprika fried potatoes, onions, bacon and a fried egg) or naughty Konditorei in the afternoon.

Broad Beans – Removing the bright green beans from the furry pods and silvery skins is a little time-consuming but quite soothing and definitely worth the effort (the skins are a little bitter/chewy).  After cooking, plunge in cold water and the skins should slip off.  My favourite way of using at the moment is mixing them with lots of sweated shallots and garlic, chopped parsley, then topping with a poached egg and shavings of pecorino.  This cheese goes particularly well with broad beans – you could also combine in a risotto, or as a simple pasta sauce with egg yolks to bind and the fragrance of fresh mint stirred through.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Granger & Co, Clerkenwell

I keep adding to my cookery book shelves (Jason Atherton’s Social Suppers new this weekend, and a long list of wants, including the Morito and Honey & Co books).  Some I just flick through and never quite get round to making anything from, others are a little ingredient spattered from lots of cooking. One of the most leafed through is Bill Granger’s Easy Asian, his style simple, fresh, all beautifully shot in the book. 

His first London post of Granger & Co opened in Notting Hill, particularly known for the rather extensive brunch offering (Granger is Australian, and Antipodeans do seem to do brunch well – see Caravan for example).  The second has just opened near me in Clerkenwell, tucked just between Clerkenwell Green and St John Street.  It’s open all day, the menu including salads, pizzas, pastas, curries and other mains.

We went for brunch one Saturday though, with almost too many options.  There are juices, interesting grains (I like the sound of the brown rice and sweet miso porridge), different ways with eggs, and Granger’s famous ricotta hotcakes.  We chose savoury – I had the broken eggs with ricotta, spinach, pine nuts and grilled sourdough (£8.50), which were more set scrambled in their skillet.  A really lovely combination with the cool ricotta and creamy pine nuts. 

E had the sweetcorn fritter, roast tomato, spinach and bacon (£13.50) – fritters are hard to get right, often ending up as rather tasteless fried lumps, but these were great, nice and crispy on the outside.  They needed the avocado salsa, but it would have been nice to have been included, rather than an extra £2.80.  But the portions are pretty generous – important if you feel a little cheated from skipping breakfast or lunch for brunch.  If you are still peckish, you can always take a look at the gleaming counter, full of biscotti, pastries, cheesecake and all kinds of other nice sweet things.

Granger & Co on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Chiltern Firehouse, Marylebone

Uniforms are a good mark of a bar/hotel/restaurant with rather impeccable taste.  Take the dapper tweed of the doormen at the Ace Hotel on Shoreditch High Street.  I went to a V&A fashion talk last Friday, with Kinvara Balfour discussing emerging/already rather emerged designers who show in London with GQ’s Dylan Jones and the British Fashion Council’s Caroline Rush.  One of the designers mentioned was Emilia Wickstead, with the accolade that even the hosts at Chiltern Firehouse are wearing her jumpsuits.

Chiltern Firehouse is definitely the hottest restaurant at the moment.  There have even been a few articles this week asking what the fuss is about, and how difficult it is to get a table, with lots of celebrity name checking (apparently lots of mentions on Mail Online, accompanying the pap shots – I’m continuing my boycotting of the ‘sidebar of shame' for the addicts out there).  It’s the first London place from André Balazs (the hotel will open shortly), after his US set that includes the likes of Chatau Marmont and The Standard hotels on both the east and west coasts.

The space is undoubtedly very gorgeous within the red brick old fire station, with a leafy outside terrace complete with giant modern fire, and the inside full of luxe textiles, flowers, and shining metal sides of the open kitchen.  Even the menu is very artful.  

But the food is just as picture-perfect (and very delicious).  Nuno Mendes is behind the kitchen, previously at Viajante in the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green (now the Typing Room restaurant).  I didn’t make it to Viajante, the menu is less experimental perhaps, but reads as a list of everything you want to eat, which is really what you want.

The first section is ‘For the Table’ – basically the best kind of snacks.  Cauliflower came as pearly white florets sat on top an earthy truffle paste (£5) and deviled cucumbers were hollowed out with spied salmon tartare (£5).  The cornbread fingers were warm and buttery, complete with a little pot of chipotle maple butter (£2) for smearing on top.

The rest is split into starters, salads and mains.  I had the steak tartare with pine nuts, chipotle and Firehouse hot sauce (£12).  I don’t know where the pine nuts were hiding, but it was a superb version – complete with dainty blobs of additions to the melting meat with teeny tiny wooden paddles to mix together.  It was made extra special with the little bottle of Firehouse hot sauce (complete with hand-written little label on the neck) – a kind of spicy, much better ketchup, and the curls of crunchy toast.  The other starter was a plate green and white asparagus with chervil and brown butter (£11), a perfect use of the ingredient.

We both ordered from the salads (large enough for mains), including a summery seared steak salad with heirloom tomatoes and carrot dressing (£20).  I had the blackened salmon salad with cavolo nero and apple (£19), the salmon nicely rare inside, with curls of crisp skin among the iron-rich leaves, tart apple and bursts of orange roe.  It was suitably virtuous, but also brilliant with a pot of their excellent French fries (perfectly crisp/salty).  

I watched other plates sail past – on Thursday the menu also included a tuna Niçoise pizzette with walnut tapenade, chargrilled Iberico pork with turnips and a broad bean salad with jersey royals.  Desserts were skipped, but sounded equally fabulous.  Service is perfectly judged too, not stuffy but very attentive.  Prices are definitely not the eye-watering kind of lots of celeb favourites either. 

Back to the uniforms – the jumpsuits are indeed wonderfully chic (dark teal/blue-ish, slashed down the back).  Maybe not the most comfortable of work outfits.  But that’s not really the point.  Chiltern Firehouse is completely sleek and polished.  It’s not all style without substance though, as it is a great place to eat.  I’ll really be back to try more of Mendes’ food (albeit with the beautiful people).  That’s if I can wangle a table any time this year.

Chiltern Firehouse on Urbanspoon