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.

Monday, 4 August 2014

What Joanna Ate Top 3 August 2014

Summer is in full swing.  We are just into August now, and I have been sitting in the sun this weekend, thinking of my hot things for the month.  A little selfishly, I’m starting with all things birthday (I turn a year older later this week), followed by a few seasonal ideas and new a London suggestion.

Birthdays – Clearly the best time for eating and drinking treats (with other people paying).  Either somewhere a little bit special (last year the trip to Midsummer House in Cambridge was worth it for the giant lacquered box full of homemade chocolates and dainty triangles of beignet alone, a freebie with the coffee).  Or something indulgent at home.  Bubbles are a prerequisite for this.  Either in the form of a classic champagne cocktail, or the ever-so manly-named Twinkle.  For the first, shake a few drops of angostura bitters over a brown sugar cube at the bottom of a champagne glass, add 20ml or so of cognac, before topping up with champagne.  A Twinkle rather dangerously combines champagne with vodka, elderflower cordial and a lemon twist, but you can just use St Germain in place of the vodka and cordial, in its rather beautiful ridged bottle.

Cherries – My favourite summer fruit, the inky juice staining your fingers deep cerise.  If you get them just right, they are super sweet and juicy, perfect eaten by the punnet, straight from their wiry stalks.  With a little de-stoning effort, they work really well in savoury and sweet.  One of my latest lunchbox salads has been cherries combined with a mild goat’s cheese or goat’s curd if you can get hold of some (Neal’s Yard do pots of it), on a mild, soft lettuce (Lamb’s lettuce is good), maybe with a few hazelnuts of walnuts.  My new kind of pancakes for brunch is a lovely way to use for something sweet. I make a stack of banana, oat and cherry pancakes, mixing a ripe mashed banana, beaten egg, small handful of oats, smidge of vanilla extract, tablespoon of spelt flour and a splash of almond milk, along with the de-stoned, and quartered cherries.  Just fry in a little butter until golden.

Picnics at The Culpeper – To make the most of balmy London evenings, often the best way is up.  Up to a roof, escaping spilling onto the pavement below.  The re-done Culpeper has just opened on Commercial Street (just down from Spitalfields, towards Aldgate East), with a roof that includes their own vegetable garden.  They serve the produce below (think brunch and serious roasts at the weekend - I've heard very good things already), but will also be serving summer picnics for the whole of August.  For £15 each, you pick up a hamper from the kitchen first (pork pies, duck rillettes, salads etc), and make your way up with blankets and bar (the first drink is included).  It’s a picnic without all the hard work (no mosquitoes feasting on your or running out of wine - the usual picnic perils).  I’m therefore sold (mosquitoes love me).

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 CafĂ© – 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.

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