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Restaurant Review: Green Cow Kitchens, Whitbourne, Worcestershire

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I made the trip into (for this Londoner!) deepest, darkest Worcestershire yesterday to see my lovely daughter. If I thought I was deep in the country at Nicola & Rachael’s old farmhouse, with its glorious views over gently rolling hills, in a village outside Droitwich …

… then I didn’t really understand how remote the English countryside could get. The girls had booked a table for dinner at Green Cow Kitchens, Crumplebury Farm, in Whitbourne (about 12 miles from Worcester). They’d heard great reports of the food and when I looked at the website, it looked like a very exciting place to eat.

The restaurant is only open Wed-Sat and some Sunday lunchtimes. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings, there is a ‘brasserie’ menu but on Fridays and Saturdays there is a Tasting Menu, which changes every month, reflecting the seasons. Guests turn up at 7.30 and then enjoy 7 courses, which are eaten in a leisurely and relaxed style over the next 3-4 hours. The restaurant sources seasonal products of the highest quality and, as far as possible, locally. Meat – organic Beef Shorthorn and Lleyn Lamb, along with traditional breeds of pigs – comes from the home farm on the Whitbourne Estate. This also provides game such as pheasant, duck and wild venison. They have their own herb garden and forage many ingredients. Anything they don’t grow or breed themselves comes from local suppliers.

It was about a half hour’s drive away and satnav coordinates had been given when making the booking. The reason for this became clear when near the end of our journey, we headed across fields on rough, unmade roads and clanked over cattle grids. But just at the point we were questioning whether we could really be on the right route, we saw our destination in the distance.

Even as we parked, someone came out and gave us the warmest of welcomes and then led us into a barn where the restaurant was housed.

More staff greeted us with big smiles. It really was one of the friendliest greetings I’ve ever enjoyed. The barn had been converted into an attractive airy space that combined a sense of cosiness with a nice touch of sophistication.

Drinks were offered, featuring their homemade elderflower cordial, made from foraged elderflowers. Rachael opted for an Elderfower G&T, while Nicola and I had a kind of elderflower Kir – the cordial with prosecco. I was slightly worried it might be too sweet but was assured the prosecco was dry. And really, with something more exciting on offer than straight prosecco, I decided to just go with it. And it was very delicious, with some of the fresh elderflowers floating on the top, so I was glad I’d had it. We also ordered some sparkling water (Pellegrino) and a bottle of Sancerre for later.

   

The menu was nicely printed out, with some ingredients explained and we could always see exactly what was coming, which is great when it’s a long tasting menu.

A tray of amuse-bouche came first: some delicious, warm pea & mint soup; some light and tasty tapenade on rounds of crispy toast; and a glorious fried parcel of duck with the crispiest of coatings and lightest of meat inside – it was sensational.

The bread arrived on a wooden board and tasted as good as it looked: warm fresh rolls and lightly whipped butter to go with them.

Then the 1st course: House Smoked Salmon, Dill and Mustard Dressing, Crème Fraîche & Salmon Caviar.

It looked so pretty and tasted so good. They smoke the salmon themselves and it was done with a lightness that made this a special and fresh-tasting start to our meal.

The 2nd course was Fresh Tomato Gazpacho, Scented with Basil.

Again, another delicious course.

The 3rd course was Estate Beef Bressaola, Truffle Mayonnaise, Salad. The bresaola was their home-cured Beef Shorthorn. It was good but perhaps my least favourite of the courses.

Although there was in theory ‘no choice’, when booking and asked about special dietary requirements we’d said that Nicola was pregnant and Rachael a pescatarian. Thus for this course they provided alternatives: some asparagus with hard-poached egg for Nicola, and crayfish ravioli on a bed of carrot for Rachael. The ‘alternatives’ were thoughtfully done so there was no chance that any diner could feel they were missing out.

   

The 4th course was Cord Fed Poussin, Crayfish Ravioli, Summer Vegetables, Jus of Crayfish.

This was gorgeous and such a delightful combination of flavours. Rachael, meanwhile, was given some brown trout with summer vegetables.

Next was course 5: Feta and Beetroot Tartlet, Apple and Watercress Salad.

This was an ingenious little creation of creamy feta in a crispy pastry case on a bed of beetroot carpaccio. The beetroot flavour was carried over into little balls of purée, with balls of creamy apple purée with a nice, slightly sour bite to it (Granny Smith apples? we wondered). It came with a little glass of Madeira.

We were told that course 6 was a palate cleanser: Gooseberry and Chase Vodka Sorbet, Gooseberry Jelly. It was fabulous and ‘palate cleansing’ in a sophisticated and creative way.

Finally the last – 7th – course of Elderflower Pannacotta, Textures of Strawberry, Elderflower Fritter.

Another beautifully presented and creative dish. The little elderflower fritter on top of the pannacotta was genius. There were very lightly cooked strawberries a syrup, melt-in-the-mouth tiny meringues and some strawberry cream and a little piece of honeycomb. The elderflower taste of the pannacotta was very good, though the texture a little too solid, I felt – I like my pannacottas lighter and creamier; just holding together.

We finished with coffee for two of us which came with some homemade, excellent chocolate truffles.

It really was a superb and special meal. There was some truly creative cooking of the highest quality. The menu was also thoughtfully put together so there was great harmony between the dishes. And, importantly, although we felt we’d eaten plenty by the end, we didn’t feel we’d eaten too much. Everything had been perfectly judged. Throughout the service had been brilliant and the staff showed a wonderful enthusiasm for the food they were serving, wanting to tell us about the ingredients, and this greatly added to the pleasure of eating it.

The Tasting Menu cost £44.50 per head, which is amazing value. The bottle of excellent Sancerre was £34.

It may have felt a bit of an expedition to get to Green Cow Kitchens but it was definitely an adventure worth making. Really, to eat at this special restaurant it’s worth a trip into deepest, darkest Worcestershire from even quite far away!

Green Cow Kitchens Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Grilled Vegetables with Buffalo Mozzarella

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It’s been a glorious June day with the temperature in the mid-20s and the sun shining from a clear blue sky. My beautiful pale yellow rose is in full bloom in the garden, its Old English perfume a heady, glorious fragrance. Pots are filled with bright red geraniums and what a treat it was to eat supper in the garden this evening.

   

I’ve been working today but the bonus of being freelance and working from home is being able to take coffee or tea breaks in the garden, closing my eyes as I raise my face to the sun and feeling its warmth on me. I took a longer break in the afternoon to meet Lyndsey and the boys in Richmond. It was a special trip just to go to Gelateria Danieli for afternoon ice cream. Who wants English tea when Italian gelato is on offer, on a warm summer’s day! What flavour would you like? I asked 3-year-old Freddie. Chocolate!! (of course). Plus some strawberry sorbet. It was lovely to sit on Richmond Green with the family for a while. I also felt I’d done my ‘dessert’ before my main course, but hey, it’s summer!

There’s something about summer that calls for simplicity. And really, supper can’t get much more simple than grilling a few vegetables and serving them with a creamy buffalo mozzarella. I actually griddled them – being a keen ‘griddler’ – but you could use a grill or even barbecue them.

I used a fairly traditional mix of aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, peppers and red onion. But feel free to go with your fancy or whatever is in your fridge or vegetable rack. Perhaps some fennel, or even radicchio (as I did with sea bream). I decided to roast the peppers as that’s my preference. Then I can easily slip the skins off and the taste is fabulous.

Grilled Vegetables with Buffalo Mozzarella – Serves 2

  • selection of vegetables: e.g. 1 aubergine, 1 large courgette, 2 large tomatoes, 2 medium red onions
  •  2 Romano red peppers
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 x 125g buffalo mozzarella
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • about 1-2 tablespoons fresh, chopped herbs – e.g. basil, mint, parsley
  • balsamic vinegar

 

Carefully cut very thin slices off opposite sides of the aubergine and courgette. Then cut each lengthwise into 4 slices. Cut the tough stem out of the top of the tomatoes and cut each into 4 slices. Peel the red onions, cut a thin slice off two opposite ends and slice into 4 pieces.

Put the Romano peppers into a hot (220C/200 Fan/Gas 7) preheated oven. Put directly on a shelf with a tray underneath to catch any juices. Roast until you can see the skins start to blacken in a few places (about 15 minutes). Remove carefully (they’ll be very hot) and put straight into a medium-sized freezer bag and close up. Leave for 5-10 minutes. Then remove. They’ll still be hot, so take care. You should find that you can easily peel the skin off.

   

Slice down the middle and remove the seeds. Cut each pepper into quarters, lengthwise, and transfer to a large serving plate. I’d warmed a serving plate as I was going to eat straight away and wanted the vegetables slightly warm, but they’ll be as gorgeous at room temperature. Don’t serve from the fridge. If you’re making well ahead of serving, keep in the fridge, but remove in time for them to come back to room temperature.

   

While your peppers are roasting and cooling, start to grill/griddle the other vegetables. You’ll have to do it in batches. Brush each slice with extra virgin olive oil as you put it on the griddle, then brush the top, ready for turning over.

After 2-3 minutes, carefully lift the edge of the slices to see if they are cooked underneath. You should have nice, slightly charred, lines running across them. When they are ready, turn over to cook the other side.

Once cooked both sides, add to the plate with the peppers.

When all the vegetables are ready, open the mozzarella. Do try to find a nice, creamy buffalo variety.

I like to break the mozzarella into pieces rather than slice. Put in the middle of the grilled vegetables. Season it all with salt and pepper, then scatter over the chopped fresh herbs. Drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil and some balsamic vinegar. All done and ready to eat!

I served this with a nice, crusty French baguette that I’d bought in Paul Bakery in Richmond this morning.

There was plenty for 2 portions. It was so delicious. I think grilling/griddling the vegetables brings out their best flavour. And the creamy mozzarella is a wonderful accompaniment, making it a complete meal.

A truly perfect summer supper!

Pan-fried Sea Bream with Griddled Radicchio, Courgette & Tomato

It’s not so long ago I wrote about the difficulty of buying radicchio but then I recently discovered a large display of it in Wholefoods in Richmond and so I’ve started buying it regularly again. Italians will say that Treviso tardivo is the best kind of radicchio but the kind most commonly found in UK is the round Chioggia. And really, I was very happy to find that! It wasn’t a time to be fussy.

I love radicchio’s bitter taste – I suppose it’s a little like chicory – and it’s fabulous to tear a few leaves into a green salad for a mix of flavours. Tonight, however, I decided to griddle it. Cooking works well, as it does with tight green lettuces like Baby Gem. I decided to griddle some courgette and tomato with it and serve the vegetables with some pan-fried sea bream. I have a wonderful fishmonger in Twickenham – Sandys – and so I went there and chose a sea bream and asked them to prepare it as two fillets. One I would cook and eat tonight; the other could be frozen for another meal.

 

Pan-fried Sea Bream with Griddled Radicchio, Courgette & Tomato – Serves 1

  • ½ radicchio, cut in half (i.e. you have two quarters)
  • 1 small or ½ large courgette, cut into thick slices
  • a few tomatoes – depending on size; I had a Heritage mix of colours
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 sea bream fillet
  • small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ clove garlic sliced

 

Prepare the vegetables. Put in a bowl and pour over a fairly generous amount of extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with your hands to make sure the vegetables are well covered in oil. Heat a griddle until hot.

Lay the vegetables on the hot griddle and cook until the underside is blackening and done. Turn over carefully and cook the other side.

Transfer to a warm serving plate. Drizzle over any leftover oil from the initial coating or pour over a little from a bottle. Drizzle over a little balsamic vinegar. The sweet balsamic is a wonderful complement to the bitter radicchio.

Keep the vegetables warm while you cook the fish. Cut three or four slashes through the skin and just into the flesh of the sea bream fillet. Brush will a little olive oil and sprinkle over some sea salt and pepper and rub in. Heat a frying pan. When hot put the fish in skin-side down.

Cook over a medium heat until you see the edges of the fish start to turn from translucent to white – showing it’s beginning to be cooked quite well through. Then turn the fish over and finish cooking for just a minute or two. Transfer to a warm plate.

Now really you should do this earlier but I forgot so it was done super quick – a kind of persillade sauce to dress the fish. Finely chop the parsley with the garlic. Put in a bowl and season and add some olive oil and a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Mix until you have a salsa-type consistency. Transfer to a little serving bowl.

   

   

Serve the fish with a little of the parsley salsa and the griddled vegetables.

It was such a warm evening I could sit outside in the garden, catching the last of the sun.

It was a perfect summer meal. Gorgeous soft, moist and delicious fish with a crispy skin and fabulous, slightly charred griddled vegetables. It was such a lovely mix of flavours with the bitter radicchio and sweet tomatoes and courgettes making a perfect accompaniment to the fish.

My Week in Food

It’s been ages since I’ve done one of these ‘my week in food’ posts but they’re fun to do occasionally, looking back on my week through the eyes of what I’ve been eating. They also give me a chance to mention somewhere I’ve already reviewed and still like a lot.

For someone who thinks about food so much, who plans a day by where I’ll go for coffee, what I’ll have for lunch and what I’ll cook for supper … well if it all sounds a little sad it seems to be a common feature amongst us foodies … yes, we’re ‘foodies’ because we love food!

So, here’s my week:

Saturday 

Last Saturday saw a trip to Islington in the evening to see The Writer at the Almeida Theatre, preceded by a brilliant pre-theatre meal at Bellanger. A great place to go for a taste of Paris. Click here for full review.

 

Sunday

Paul Bakery have recently introduced Power Pots to their breakfast range – oats soaked overnight in milk, with yoghurt and fruit. It’s becoming a ritual to go to my local Paul in Richmond on Sunday morning, an Observer in hand, and order one of their gorgeous power pots, a flat white and a pastry. What a brilliant way to relax into a Sunday.

 

Monday

Monday was a bank holiday. I had my lovely little grandson Freddie for much of the day and when I took him home to his mum and dad, son Jonathan said to stay for supper. He’d made some fabulous meatballs, cooked in tomato sauce and served with linguine. They were really, really good.

 

Tuesday

Tuesday is my book club day. Unusually, we meet every week. And no that doesn’t mean having to read a novel a week. First Tuesdays are short stories or novellas; 2nd Tuesdays are poetry; 3rd Tuesdays are novels; 4th Tuesdays are a ‘theme’, something like our recent ‘favourite travel writing’. Then, of course, four times a year, there are 5th Tuesdays. And then we go out for a meal together. Last Tuesday – a 5th Tuesday – we went to Tangawizi, my favourite local Indian restaurant. We had a fantastic meal; everyone loved it. And it was such a lovely, friendly place to sit for the evening and talk of things other than books and poetry – even though we are, of course, all avid readers!

 

Wednesday

Wednesday I was home alone for the evening and cooked. I had some courgettes in the fridge and decided to make a courgette risotto. It was – all modesty aside! – a very nice risotto.

 

Thursday

Thursday I braved the huge rainstorm to get to Guildford to meet a friend at The March Hare. A first visit and I was very impressed. I was conscious as I ordered that the Spring Risotto was much like the one I’d cooked the night before. But it was what I fancied and contained a lot more vegetables and was an altogether more exciting mix. It was brilliant; really good, as was the whole meal.

 

Friday

Friday saw me heading back to north London to meet with another friend – my good friend Annie. She’d bought some pasteis de nata for us to have with coffee when I arrived and they were so good – possibly the best I’ve had. A nice crispy pastry, fairly deep but not too sweet custard. Absolutely gorgeous.

Later in the afternoon, heading home via Covent Garden, I went to Gelatorino for the first time and discovered their ice cream was as wonderful as I’d heard. Definitely another gelateria to add to my ‘top gelaterie in London’. Click here for full review.

It was really a week of the new rather than the old; these posts are more often about revisiting old favourites – restaurants and recipes. But it’s nice to celebrate a week when I enjoyed two great new restaurants as well as a favourite and loved old, a fabulous new gelateria and my son cooking for me (which to be fair, he does quite often!).

I hope you had a great week of food too!

Gelatorino, Covent Garden

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I’ve passed Gelatorino so many times and have thought to go in, especially as it’s often listed as one of the best gelaterias in London, but I never seem to be there at the right time. Until today.

I’d had a lovely day with my good friend Annie in north London, arriving in time for morning coffee which she served with some pasteis de nata from her local De Beauvoir Deli. They were perhaps the best I’ve ever had. Later we had lunch in the De Beauvoir Arms (coincidently owned by my brother’s sister-in-law) and by the time I set off home mid-afternoon, I was undecided about my route and plan. I took a bus down to the Bloomsbury area and while I thought I might go into the British Museum for a Greek exhibition I’ve been meaning to see, it was too hot and muggy, and getting too late to want to do much and also risk getting caught in the rush-hour mayhem at Waterloo. I decided to just take a slow wander through Covent Garden towards Waterloo station and home.

But then I thought – gelato! Well, it is the first day of June and even if the sun was hiding behind the clouds, it was quite warm. How better to cool down than a nice tub of fabulous ice cream. Thus I found myself at Gelatorino in Russell Street, close to the Royal Opera House and Piazza and then really, there was no stopping me.

They don’t just sell ice cream. They also sell cakes, biscuits, chocolates, crêpes, coffee ‘made the Italian way’ and hot chocolate.

Gelatorino describe themselves as ‘a little window on Turin’ and they certainly have a lot of Turin-inspired flavours: Breakfast in Turin (coffee and chocolate chip), Bunet (a famous Turin dessert of chocolate, amaretti, coffee and rum), Gianduja (a Turin speciality of chocolate and hazelnuts) and Hazelnut (the nuts from Piedmont). Turin is very much the home of chocolate (see this post from one of my trips there), and local hazelnuts appear in many recipes, including savoury.

There’s no colourful display of tubs of gelato when you go inside. The ice cream is kept in lidded metal tubs – pozzetti – which are thought to keep the preservative-free ice cream better. But they were happy to give tastings. The blackboard listing flavours offered quite a small choice but this is because they make the ice cream fresh every day. They use only the highest quality ingredients: Bronte IGP pistachios, IGP hazelnuts from Piedmont, chocolate Arriba. They pride themselves on the production of their gelato, using a process called ‘mantecazione‘ in old-fashioned ice cream machines, which give a slow texturing of the gelato resulting in a very creamy, velvety ice cream.

Keeping with the Turin theme (I do love Turin!), I chose Bunet as one of my flavours; then Pistachio as the other. A small tub was £3.50 and it was very generously filled.

So – after all that thinking, how was the gelato? Sublime. Wonderful. I loved the rich, chocolatey Bunet (I remembered having that flavour at a gelateria in Turin) and the pistachio was heavenly, such a good, true pistachio taste. Gelatorino certainly counts as one of the best ice cream parlours I’ve been to in London.

Gelatorino Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Review: The March Hare, Guildford

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It has to be said that it was a bit of a mission getting to Guildford this evening to meet my friend Tina. We hadn’t met up in a while but she’s one of my oldest friends – as in known for longer than most others – and having postponed this get-together from last Thursday so I could go to the Chelsea Flower Show with Jonathan, despite the horrendous weather forecast, I didn’t want to cancel again.

The UK has been hit by violent thunderstorms with heavy downpours of rain over the past few days. It was fairly peaceful as I set out from Twickenham, driving on to the M3, branching off to the M25 and then the A3 to Guildford. But gradually the slightly ominous looking clouds turned greyer and then the skies suddenly opened. It was the kind of storm that’s sometimes referred to as ‘biblical’. If I tell you that coming home, when the skies had cleared and the rain drained away, it took me just under 35 minutes to do the journey, you’ll understand that it taking me 1 hour 45 minutes to get there was seriously bad. The roads were so flooded entering Guildford, I thought that if the rain continued I might be stuck there for the night. But as it happened the rain did stop; the skies even cleared a bit. And it was really lovely to see my friend. And the meal was just as fantastic as she’d promised me. The March Hare was wonderful.

The restaurant is at the back of a pub and I had to make my way through a crowded bar area to the dining area. This was simple but attractive; tables nicely spaced out. It was 6.45 and we’d booked for 6.00. Tina had been waiting patiently for me for 45 minutes (fortunately in this mobile phone age I was able to update her of my slow progress). The early evening menu supposedly ends at 6.30 but there was no problem about still choosing from it. My journey was sympathised with and ‘of course’ we could use the set menu.

The set menu is available until 6.30 from Monday to Saturday. As it was headed ‘May Set Menu’, I guess it changes each month. That’s always a good thing, especially if it’s a local place you like to go to regularly, and it shows the restaurant is respectful of the seasons. You could have 2 courses for £11.95 and add a third for an additional £3.50. There were 3 starters, 4 mains and 3 desserts to choose from. There were also extras: nibbles like olives and bread, and some sides you could add on.

I chose Potted Smoked Mackerel, Horseradish Crème Fraîche & Toasted Baguette for my starter.

Simply but nicely served, it was a delicious creamy pâté. I really enjoyed it and it reminded me it was something I used to make a lot years ago – clearly I have to make it again!

Tina chose Pea, Mint & Marjoram Soup that was the most glorious colour, and also good.

Slightly unusually for me I chose a vegetarian main: Spring Vegetable Risotto with French Beans, Peas, Broad Beans, Courgettes, Asparagus & Sugar Snaps with Gran Padano Cheese. It might not be very springlike outside, but I couldn’t resist this lovely combination of spring vegetables. It reminded me of the Risotto Torcello I had at Locanda Cipriani three years ago, where the risotto varies according to what vegetables are in season, and contained a similar mix. This kind of risotto in Italy is often called Risotto Primavera – Spring Risotto – just like mine tonight. The March Hare’s was wonderful – such a fabulous mix of vegetables and cooked to a perfect al dente so they retained some bite and their individual flavours, but coming together into a wonderful whole.

Tina’s Grilled Dab (flatfish), Hispi Cabbage, Sauté Potatoes & Lemon Butter looked fabulous too. That would have been my alternative choice and I momentarily wondered if I’d made a mistake … but the risotto was too good to regret.

We both had small glasses of white wine. Neither of us wanted dessert but we had coffee to finish and the final bill, with tip, was £45.10.

It was a really excellent meal. The service was very friendly and wonderfully efficient. What a great place. We didn’t linger too long … we wanted to head home before it was dark because of the flooding. But fortunately almost all signs of flooding had gone by the time we left. But we said we’d go back soon. This is a great find in Guildford thanks to my friend.

The March Hare Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Review: Bellanger, Islington

I was meeting my friend Nicola in Islington to see The Writer at the Almeida Theatre; a play that has divided critics from those who 4* love it (Guardian and Telegraph) to The Times who 1* hated it. We tried to go with an open mind but unfortunately the further into the play we got, the more we agreed with The Times – it really was a terrible and pretentious play.

We should have stayed in Bellanger where we’d happily and comfortably settled for our pre-theatre meal. It was Nicola who suggested we ate there. Bellanger is a traditional style French grand café inspired by the classics of Alsace, which means a lot of rich, calorie-laden food but in the most fabulous style: Tartes Flambées, Choucroute à l’Alsacienne, Schnitzels, garnitures of sauerkraut and pommes aligot (cheesy mashed potato), and snails with lots of garlic. It’s not the easiest place to be a vegetarian, though there is a note on the menu to ask for their ‘full vegetarian menu’.

Bellanger is part of the Corbin & King group, the team behind The Wolseley, The Delaunay and the wonderful Brasserie Zédel. In the great Parisian tradition you can go any time of the day from breakfast, morning coffee, lunch, early evening drink, or dinner. A café to suit your every need. There’s also a touch of Paris in the way it spills generously on to the pavement outside, overlooking Islington Green.

Inside it is rather gloriously ‘grand’ in the best Parisian tradition, from highly polished dark wood, gleaming traditional lighting, plush seating and white linen tablecloths. There was even a pianist providing live music in the background; waiters in smart attire with waistcoats and long white aprons. We might have been in Paris but we were in London N.1.

Given our limited time, we opted for the set menu – Table d’Hôte – which is served from 11.30am – 6.30pm daily, with 2 courses for £16.00 and 3 courses for £18.50. The choice is fairly limited with just two choices for each course. But being people who are happy to eat more or less anything, we had no problem. We both chose Chicken Liver Parfait with tomato chutney to begin (the other choice was Soupe à la Bière), and Seared Fillet of Sea Bream with spring vegetables for our main (the alternative was Bavette Steak). We didn’t have dessert but there was Tarte au Citron and Petit-Pot au Chocolat on offer.

To drink, we ordered a large bottle of sparkling water and a 175ml glass of Sauvignon Blanc (£8) each.

A bowl of very delicious and very ‘French’ bread came.

Then our starters.

The parfait was soft, rich, creamy and delicious; the accompanying chutney had just the right amount of tartness to complement it.

The seared sea bream (one of my favourite fish) was perfectly cooked with a crispy skin and gorgeously moist and tasty fish tucked underneath. There was a nice mix of braised spring vegetables, including peas and broad beans, to go with it and a slice of caramelised chicory.

I really liked Bellanger. If we had one in Richmond (rather than the overhyped and overpriced Ivy Café), I’d be seeking part-time residence rights. Meanwhile, I can see it becoming my place-to-go anytime I’m in Islington.

The bill including drinks and service charge was £56 for two.

Bellanger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Review: Polpo, Chelsea

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After we came out of the Chelsea Flower Show at 8.00pm, we decided to find somewhere to eat. I’d earlier noticed a Polpo in the pedestrianised area of Duke of York Square, just off King’s Road. On a warm late May evening after a lovely time at the Flower Show, supper al fresco seemed a great idea.

Russell Norman’s Polpo restaurants have been the place to go in London in recent years for an authentic Venetian experience. As in the Venetian experience of sitting on the edge of the Grand Canal early evening with a glass of prosecco and plates of ciccheti – a kind of Venetian tapas; small plates to share.

The first Polpo I ate at was the one in Covent Garden and it was just after coming back from a trip to Venice. Would the meal temporarily transport me back to one of my favourite cities? Sadly not. I had a few issues with both service and food. So how would this Chelsea branch compare?

Well Polpo Chelsea got off to a great start; a pleasing beginning to a meal that while not perfect, was very good, and I’d certainly happily go back.

There was a queue when we arrived and we were told the wait was about 20-30 minutes. We knew anywhere good would have a queue at that time if you hadn’t booked, so we decided to wait. It was a pleasant evening and a nearby bench was soon vacated so we settled down. Someone came to take an order for drinks and we both – not wanting to drink a lot, just wine with our meal – chose a non-alcoholic cocktail of elderflower cordial, ginger beer and lemon. Then, much sooner than expected, a table was free so we moved to it and had our drinks there while deciding what to eat. I commented to the waiter that I was pleased they’d been pessimistic about the wait time rather than optimistic. He replied that it’s not good to annoy people by making them wait a lot longer than promised.

Our table happened to be one at the edge of the large sitting space outside and was really quite perfect. We felt part of the crowd but it wasn’t too noisy and more private.

   

We chose a ½ litre of house white (Garganega) for £14 to share. Then we studied the menu – the paper table ‘mats’ in front of us – and decided what to order. There was no particular theme to our choice; just what we fancied, and mixing things up a bit by choosing from different categories. We both like arancini and chose ‘Pea, basil & robiola’ (£4.30).

Robiola is a soft, creamy cheese from Piedmont. There was a nice, creamy risotto-like rice filling but we both felt they were under seasoned and the outside not quite crispy enough.

This ‘Braised scallops, pancetta & pea’ dish was my choice (£9.90); Jonathan doesn’t eat much fish. I love scallops and these were wonderful – this was my favourite dish of all. They were perfectly cooked and the salty accompaniment of the pancetta with the sweet scallops and peas was gorgeous.

We went for the simplest of the Pizzette – ‘Buffalo mozzarella & tomato’ (£6.50). I wasn’t terribly excited by the base, which lacked the crispness of a ‘romana’ pizza but had none of the light softness of a ‘napoli’; it seemed as if it hadn’t been left to rise for long enough. But I eat so much wonderful pizza, with two great pizzerias run by Italians near my home, that my standards are very high! However, the tomato sauce was very good and so overall we enjoyed it.

These meatballs were very good too: ‘Spicy pork & fennel’ (£6.50).

From some interesting and appealing Vegetables & Salad choices we went for ‘Spinach risotto, asparagus & fried onion’ (£7.00). We liked this a lot.

We’d ordered not quite knowing if it would be enough food – it’s always a bit difficult to know with ‘sharing plates’, but it turned out to be a good amount and we were both fairly full by the end. I however thought I could fit in an ‘Affogato al caffè’ (£4.00). I remember having affogato for the first time in Venice on a family holiday. We saw them being delivered to a nearby table and said, We want some of those, please! It’s one of my favourite summer desserts, combining a good espresso with some lovely vanilla ice cream.

Pour the hot coffee over the ice cream … and wow!

We really enjoyed our meal. The food wasn’t perfect but it was good and there were the highlights of the scallops and meatballs. The service was excellent and really couldn’t have been bettered – from our arrival and the welcome as we put our name on the waiting list, to sitting down and the efficiency and friendliness throughout the meal. It was also a great location – set back from the main road in the pedestrianised area, so fairly peaceful. All they needed for the true Venice effect was a grand canal! The final bill for food and drinks came to almost £70.00 for the two of us, including service charge.

Polpo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018

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I was back at the Chelsea Flower Show yesterday, the world’s most prestigious flower show, and always exciting and inspirational to visit. I almost didn’t make it. Due to various uncertainties, I left it late getting a ticket and just when I thought I was going to miss out, my son Jonathan managed to get hold of two tickets – right at the last moment!

It was special to go with him, particularly as it was his first time at Chelsea and because last year he’d had to drop out on the day due to illness and I went on my own. Going on your own is definitely better than not going at all, but going with another enthusiastic gardener is wonderful. We had such a great time looking at the show gardens and all the other things there are to see; discussing what we liked best and why; how ideas might transfer to a garden at home; and feeling awed at times by the sheer brilliance of design, beauty of planting and variety of things to enjoy.

We had similar reactions to the gardens but there is always controversy at Chelsea. It’s been interesting to watch BBC TV’s coverage and learn more about the criteria for judging the gardens – why some deserve Gold but others miss out by a margin, gaining a Silver Gilt, or even get only a Bronze. For instance, each garden has a ‘theme’ and that theme must be respected and well conveyed to the viewer: we have to understand what we see and what we are meant to feel or how we should respond; the theme should ‘speak’ to us. The planting has to fit the theme and you shouldn’t try to mix the seasons or plant things that wouldn’t thrive together, nor grow well in the ‘theme’ of your garden, e.g. plant a moisture-loving hosta in a desert landscape. But one’s reaction to a garden is always personal to some extent – whether a simple thing like the colours of the planting appeal (I always go for blues, lilacs, dusky pinks and white in my garden) or are not your kind of colours at all; whether you like something traditional or a garden more cutting edge and modern; whether you’re a city person or prefer the deep countryside.

Here’s some of what we saw and what we liked.

The M&G Garden (Gold Medal), designed by Sarah Price, is ‘an imaginary oasis’. When I’d seen this on TV before the show it made me think of Morocco and I love Morocco so much, I knew it would appeal. In ‘the flesh’, so to speak, it wasn’t really Moroccan but it was stunning. We liked it a lot but didn’t feel it was a garden to transport to our homes; other than small ideas. I think of gardens – gardens such as you see at Chelsea – as works of art; how can they not be! And just as at an art gallery I am sometimes awed by a painting but know I couldn’t live with it on my walls (even if I did have a few spare £millions!), you can look at show gardens in the same way – admire and like but not necessarily want to live with.

The LG Eco-City garden, designed by Hay-Joung Hwang, is a ‘reimagining of inner-city life’ and despite it’s first appearance as a polished and posh garden, boasts all kinds of sustainable features, including a glass solar roof on the summer house (or whatever the building is meant to be) that generates enough electricity to power the kitchen and all other electrical features. It was a lovely garden and interesting, particularly for Jonathan, as he and his wife are about to do a similar (if not so expensive!) extension. For me it was just a little too ‘manicured’ to want to live with.

Now – for the big one! The Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC. Apart from being awarded a Gold Medal, this garden won Garden of the Show – the best garden of all! This is in large part because it ticked all the RHS’s criteria but for me, it was also simply the most stunning garden and the one I’d most love to live with. You can see from the photos below that there are various areas, leading seamlessly from one to another yet distinct and this provides mystery, different areas to fit different moments and moods. But overall it meets its theme so well –  to provide ‘the emotional transition in a child as they experience support from the NSPCC … a healing and restorative space with a rich sensory environment, designed to evoke a sense of safety, security and strength’. Perhaps it doesn’t immediately come across as a ‘children’s’ garden, but I think too often we underestimate children and a damaged child doesn’t need to be stimulated by too much bright colour and busy surroundings; they need calm. I don’t think anyway it’s meant as a ‘children’s garden’ as such but to evoke a sense of calm and security that’s needed by traumatised children or people in which they can heal. More than any other garden I could see myself sitting in it and feeling at peace.

Deciding whether the Morgan Stanley garden or Welcome to Yorkshire garden (Gold Medal) was our favourite, inspired a lot of good conversation! The Yorkshire garden is beautiful and I particularly loved the planting by the stream. This was just the kind of planting I aspire to. It certainly meets its mission to evoke a sense of being in the Yorkshire Dales with ‘buttercup meadows and rich flora’, and its stone bothy in the background. But maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, born, bred and always lived, that living in the Yorkshire Dales doesn’t appeal (a holiday perhaps) and I could so much more easily see myself sitting in Chris Beardshaw’s Morgan Stanley garden.

The Trailfinders South African Wine Estate garden (Silver Gilt Medal) was an interesting and attractive garden, apparently very typical of the old Dutch houses you see in South Africa, with a traditional cottage-style garden and a small vineyard. There were lots of aspects I liked but overall I found it too busy; I like more calm in a garden.

   

There were lots more gardens to enjoy but also lots of other interesting things to see – to decorate or use in your garden. These driftwood sculptures by James Doran-Webb were spectacular. We saw all kinds of sculptures as we went round the show but these were our clear favourites. They each cost £20,000+ so there was no way we were ordering one to take home! But they were works of art; truly beautiful.

   

As you walk round you find yourself sometimes drawn by just a colour or a small planting. There were lots of irises (and it’s the right time of the year for irises, too) but these deep purple ones were glorious. And this little planting in just the space of an old butler sink showed just how inventive you can be no matter how small your garden – even if it’s just a balcony.

   

There was so much to see in the Grand Pavilion but we were running out of time – we’d only managed to get late-entry tickets. The Grand Pavilion is a huge sensory experience – the deep fragrance almost overpowering at times. But also amazing to see for each flower, each plant, is an example of excellence. That is one of the great things about Chelsea: you could never see a plant or flower in better, more perfect condition. We loved these Lupins and the wonderful variety of colours amongst the Acers.

   

What a fantastic time we had going round the Show. We just loved seeing the show gardens, which were so inspirational; stunning to look at and beautiful to see. There were lots of other lovely things and we could have spent so much more time there – next year, we need to book well in advance and go in earlier in the day! Meanwhile, it was a great Chelsea; better than last year. And I’m looking forward to 2019’s already!

Restaurant Review: Debraggio – Italian Kitchen

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My friend Kate was treating me to a late birthday lunch and we decided to meet in Debraggio in Richmond, where we’ve met before. We’re both Italophiles. Indeed, a few years ago we used to meet up once a week to practise our Italian and made a trip to Rome together.

There’s been an Italian deli cum cafe-restaurant at 1 Duke Street in Richmond – which runs from the high street to Richmond Green – for a number of years. It was once Giuliano’s and then turned in Debraggio and I didn’t go for some time. Mainly because of the wonderful Italian restaurants and delis we have in Twickenham, a bit closer to home. But then Kate asked me a little while ago if there was somewhere ‘like Corto Deli’ in Richmond and I mentioned Debraggio … and she had such a good lunch I went back with her.

There are a few counter seats downstairs in the deli, but upstairs there are tables and waiter service. It’s all very simple and ideal for lunch. They write the menu on a blackboard – and if you’re so inclined, you can take a look in the deli downstairs to get an idea of the food.

They had some wonderful ‘specials’ like black spaghetti with garlic prawns – and I’d seen the large, wonderful prawns in the cool cabinet downstairs. There’s a good choice of food, from filled ciabatta, to main dishes – mainly pasta, but also risottos, frittata and chicken Milanese – and salads. So you can go for either a light lunch or a more substantial meal. The last time I was there, I chose the filled ciabatta with Italian meatballs, mozzarella and spicy pesto (£7.90 to eat in). It was absolutely fabulous. So good in fact that I thought I’d have it again today. But then Kate saw the vegetarian antipasti option and we asked the waitress about it and decided it would be nice to share that. Kate also fancied the Caprese salad to go with it but the helpful waitress told us there was some in the antipasti, so we decided to wait and if we wanted more food, we could order extra later. As it happened, there was plenty of food for lunch in the one plate of antipasti (about £12 – I forgot to make a note).

It was a gorgeous plate of food: bruschetta, Caprese salad of tomatoes and mozzarella, Melanzane Parmigiana (which was wonderful!), roasted carrots and beetroot, cauliflower and broccoli, roasted peppers and some olives. It was really excellent. This was all freshly prepared food; no pre-prepared from jars as you sometimes get in an antipasti mix. This was ‘home’ cooking of the best kind.

We had some wine with it – on the basis it was a birthday treat! I rarely drink alcohol at lunchtime. Afterwards we were asked if we wanted dessert and I said, No thanks. However, the waitress suggested we might like one of their home-made cannoli with our coffees, so we did. They were a perfect little treat.

Downstairs, Kate paid while I took some photos. The prepared food is really good – either for eating in or takeaway. You can see it’s freshly made and is high quality.

   

There are larder goods like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pasta, biscuits, as well as Italian cheeses and cooked meats. They have a good selection of Italian wines too.

Debraggio is an independent family run restaurant. They ‘cook with passion, using fresh quality ingredients to produce authentic Italian food’. It’s a friendly place serving excellent food and I know I’m going to go more often now I’ve rediscovered it. They’re open 8.30am-6.00pm Mon-Sat and are closed on Sundays.

Debraggio Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato