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Pear Sorbet

I know, sorbet is rather a strange thing to make on a day when the ‘beast from the East’ – as the strong winds have been named – returned with flurries of snow and the temperature dropped below zero. It’s bitterly cold outside and why on earth would I even dream of making an ice-cold sorbet!

It was the ripe pears. That’s the thing with pears. Invariably when you buy them they are rock hard and in need or ripening – where on earth you do buy a ripe pear, other than deep in the Mediterranean where they know how to treat and sell fruit properly? So, the hard pears sit in your fruit bowl and suddenly one day they are ripe. All of them. At the same time. And if you don’t eat them immediately, they are past their best; maybe even not very pleasant as they tend to go a bit woody.

So – sorbet! – I thought. I think it was all that talk of ice cream a couple of days ago. And I had also been thinking of making some ice cream for.a family lunch tomorrow, though pear sorbet hadn’t been what I’d in mind.

I dug out a very old Gary Rhodes book. Do you remember him? He was our biggest name TV chef back in the ’90s and my son Jonathan – when he was about 13 – bought me Open Rhodes Around Britain one Christmas because we’d enjoyed watching the series together on TV. Anyway, I remember I used to make Gary’s pear sorbet a lot – and it was delicious. That was really when I started making ice cream. I even used a risotto recipe in the book when I began making risottos too – his Tomato, Spinach & Parmesan Risotto became a favourite and I often still make it. So, Gary may not have been seen for a while but some of his recipes live on in my kitchen.

The pear sorbet is actually so ridiculously easy it’s barely a recipe: ripe pears mixed with sugar syrup and churned in an ice-cream maker. But still, it’s important to get quantities right for this kind of thing so I checked Gary’s out. And it tasted so gorgeous, so much more than the sum of two ingredients, that I really don’t know why I haven’t continued making it regularly.

Pear Sorbet

  • 500g ripe pears
  • juice of ½ lemon

Sugar syrup

  • 150ml water
  • 110g caster sugar

First of all make the sugar syrup: pour the water into a pan large enough to take the fruit later, add the sugar and bring to a boil. Stir to make sure all the sugar dissolves. Boil rapidly for a couple of minutes until just starting to thicken.


Meanwhile prepare the pears. Note that they start to brown very quickly so don’t prepare in advance but just before you need them. Peel and core, then cut into quarters.

Add the pear slices to the prepared sugar syrup with the lemon juice. Bring back to the boil and simmer for just 2-3 minutes. This is really to soften the pears but if they’re very ripe they hardly need cooking. Also, don’t cook for too long or you’ll lose that wonderful fresh pear flavour.

Transfer the pears and syrup to a large bowl or jug. Blend with a hand blender.


Pour the purée through a sieve so that you get a nice smooth consistency.


Now put this in the fridge to cool completely. I like to get my mixture for ice cream and sorbet making quite cold before I put it in my ice-cream maker as it tends to churn more quickly and better.

Then churn until beautifully creamy thick.

Transfer to a container and put in the freezer. As I have only a basic ice-cream maker for home use it never quite manages to reach a state of being ready to serve immediately – but maybe you have a better one!

It freezes quite hard so take from the freezer a few minutes before you want to serve (health warning: don’t do this too often with the same batch. Years ago I got my worst case of food poisoning from finishing off a tub of ice cream that had been softened and then returned to the freezer too many times.)

I served it with a baci di dama on the side. Pears and chocolate – what could be better? It really is stunningly good. I think the pears were particularly tasty and delicious and at perfect ripeness for flavour, but even so, the pear flavour is strong and gorgeous and for such a simple dish it really does score highly on taste.

Venchi, Richmond upon Thames


You might say we didn’t need another Italian gelateria in Richmond because after all we have the wonderful Gelateria Danieli, widely acclaimed as one of the best in London, and then we have Rome’s most famous tiramisu available to us at Pompi. But then as someone who can’t spend a day in Italy without having a gelato, I have to say, You can never have too many ice-cream shops! I was therefore very excited to see a couple of days ago that Venchi was about to open in the centre of Richmond.

There’s been a Venchi in Covent Garden for a few years now but I haven’t been into it; only because I’m mostly in the area early evening and about to meet a friend for supper, so don’t want an ice cream. Venchi in fact has spread itself worldwide and there are now about 75 shops around the world, from its home of Italy, to USA, Japan, Dubai, Hong Kong, Brazil, Malta, Germany, China and of course UK.

Established by Silvano Venchi in 1878 in the chocolate home of Turin, it began as a chocolate shop and later branched into making ice cream too. Thus you’ll find in Venchi a huge selection of chocolates as well as gelato. You can also – certainly in the Richmond branch – have coffee and there’s a small seating area at the back.

My first and only previous experience of Venchi was in Florence last year, a city which many will say is home to the best ice cream in the world. And I found some exceptional and utterly delicious ice cream while there. I remember thinking Venchi was good but not in the same class as, say, the famous Vivoli – once thought to serve the world’s finest ice cream and still one of the best. So, what would I think of Venchi now? Far away from the generous choice of gelaterias in Florence?

The Richmond branch opened yesterday and I popped in to take a look in the afternoon. I wasn’t sure about indulging as I was meeting a friend for early supper later, but thought I could perhaps find some nice chocolates for Easter presents.

There were staff giving warm welcomes, offering free tastes of chocolate and answering people’s queries. It’s all quite glitzy inside; shiny and new. I guess it’s meant to signal ‘luxury’. The prices certainly signal ‘luxury’. I was seriously shocked by the prices.

There were bars of chocolate ranging from £5.50 to £7.20! (I actually went into Waitrose to check prices of others good bars: £2 for Green & Blacks and online I checked a favourite of mine, Montezuma’s, which is £2.59 a bar.) Now you might say you can’t compare, that what Venchi offers is better … but really? And that much for a bar of chocolate!


I’ve become such a fan – indeed my whole family has! – of the amazing chocolate-hazelnut spread I’ve brought back from Baratti & Milano in Turin (€6 a tub), which is truly like chocolate heaven (don’t ever compare this incredible chocolate spread to Nutella!) that I thought how great it would be if I could find comparable at Venchi. But wow! £14.50! I think I’ll just wait for Eataly to open in the City of London and stock up on Baratti & Milano’s there.


You can have fun making a selection of chocolate treats in Venchi and people were walking round with bags and filling them. But it was all so expensive. Little Easter eggs at £6.70 per 100g. (I ended up stopping at the fabulous Corto Italian Deli in Twickenham on the way home where I bought a 150g pack of excellent quality chocolate mini eggs for £3.50!)


Well, as you’ll have gathered, my initial enthusiasm was fast waning – and I hadn’t even tried anything yet. But I didn’t give up on Venchi. I was working near Richmond bridge this afternoon so after my meeting I decided to take a walk into the centre of Richmond and have a coffee and ice cream at Venchi.

Again, a warm welcome at the door, which was nice. Then, Italian style, you pay for what you want to order first at a till near the entrance and then move on to be served. I got in the queue and paid to have a £4.20 regular tub of ice cream with 2 flavours and a macchiato (£2.20).

Venchi, not surprisingly given their origins, are most famous for their chocolate flavoured ice creams. I chose a Tiramisu and also Strawberry. Once they’d filled my tub with gelato, I was told to take a seat and they’d bring my coffee. So I went to the back and seating. It’s very attractive; a nice place to sit with comfortable seats.

I started with the ice cream. The strawberry flavour was OK, quite nice, but a little too sweet. The Tiramisu was so lacking in ‘tiramisu’ flavour that I actually wondered if they’d given me the wrong flavour. I could have asked but didn’t. As for price, it was quite expensive at £4.20 for a smallish tub. A similar 2 scoop size in Danieli is only £3.50.


As for the macchiato – well, really, it wasn’t an ‘espresso macchiato’ as ordered and on their menu. A macchiato should only have a very small amount of milk on top of an espresso – a ‘stain’ of milk – and it’s often foamed, so black espresso with the foam on top. This, though served in an espresso cup, was far too milky as you can see from my photo.

Oh what a disappointment! But then really I can’t feel too upset for after all, just across the road and down a little alleyway, Brewers Lane, I can sit in Gelateria Danieli and enjoy a perfect macchiato with some of London’s most fabulous ice cream. I’d thought that Richmond, like Florence and Rome, was about to offer me a choice of great gelato, but my firm loyalty to Danieli has not been threatened; I just don’t have a choice after all.

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

Arte Chef, Barnes, SW London


It was my first time back at Arte Chef since September 2014. I thought it was great when I went, but with its parent restaurant Masaniello just a 15-minute walk from home, it’s seemed so much easier to go there than taking a 20-minute drive to Barnes. But chef Livio Te’s Twickenham restaurant has become such a family favourite and we love his pizzas so much, Jonathan has been keen to try the Barnes ‘branch’ and so booked a table there for the family to celebrate Mother’s Day today.

Art Chef is open in the morning for coffee and pastries; lunch for pizza, sandwiches, pasta and salads; and in the evening for dinner. Chef-owners Livio and his business partner Aristotile Candito are both from Naples, traditionally trained in Italy and of course grew up with fantastic Neopolitan pizza; indeed Livio’s family had a pizzeria there. Thus the pizza they cook in their traditional brick oven is quite simply one of the best you’ll find in London.

It was as well Jonathan had booked as the restaurant was full. We were 4 adults, 3-year-old Freddie and 4-month old Benjamin (who obviously wasn’t about to tuck into pizza, although looked as if he’d like to give it a try). Freddie was told of the Kids’ Menu choice but inevitably opted for pizza. It was fun to see he could choose rabbit, fish or mouse shape. He chose mouse! And apple juice to drink.


The decor is simple but bright and attractive; we all liked it a lot. In the summer you can sit in the garden, as I did the first time, which makes it a particularly attractive place to go for weekend lunch with the family. In the evening it becomes more of a restaurant with a more grown-up menu.

None of the grown-ups wanted sandwiches or salads; we all wanted pizza. Lyndsey and I chose Capricciosa with tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham, mushrooms and olives.

Nicola chose one which was half folded and stuffed with aubergine with fresh rocket, mozzarella and tomatoes on the rest.

Jonathan had Salamino with tomato sauce, spicy sausages and fresh basil, with an extra of aubergine.

They were all fabulous. Of course they didn’t come all together but arrived a couple at time as they came out of the oven right behind us, straight on to plates and to our table. They couldn’t have been fresher and they couldn’t have been more delicious. Over recent years London has become home to some wonderful pizza and you no longer have to go to Italy to enjoy an authentic Neopolitan pizza, but Art Chef (and Masaniello) really are in the top league of the best you can find.

In celebratory mood for Mother’s Day dessert was a ‘must’, though it has to be said we were already feeling pretty full. Jonathan and Lyndsey shared a Tiramisu (good but not quite the right balance of ingredients). Freddie was delighted to find his ice cream (he’d had a choice of vanilla, strawberry, chocolate or pistachio) came with little marshmallows.


Nicola and I shared a Roasted Fig Tart served with Vanilla Ice cream.

This was delicious. Three of us had coffee and then, after a lovely lunch, relaxed and full, it was time to go home. And what a lovely Mother’s Day it had been.

Arte Chef Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Review: Mele e Pere

The Italian restaurant Mele e Pere in Brewer Street, Soho, has been on my list of places to try out for a little while. When I read an enticing review of a restaurant in London, I’ve taken to making a note of it on my iPhone. Tonight was an ideal time to try Mele e Pere out for I was going to a talk at the National Portrait Gallery at 7.30 and I knew it would only be a short walk from meal to gallery.

Mele e pere – Italian for ‘apples and pears’. The name appealed because it sounded fun; a lack of formality that transfers to the eating. They call themselves a ‘trattoria’, which suggests a simple approach to cooking in an authentic Italian style. They use seasonal products with a daily changing menu. Their pasta has particularly been praised and it serves one of London’s biggest selection of vermouths if you fancy just popping in for a drink, which you could enjoy with a choice of their small ‘sharing plates’.

I was warmly welcomed when I arrived and asked if I wanted to sit upstairs or downstairs. I chose upstairs and took a table at the back, which gave me a view across the restaurant.

Tap water came in a bottle, which is always welcome, and I also ordered a glass of prosecco (£5.50). I chose food from the Pre-theatre menu which is £17.50 for 2 courses and £20 for 3 courses (available 5-7pm Mon-Fri; 12-7pm Sat and all day Sunday).

There were 4 starters to choose from, 4 mains, 2 desserts or cheese for the 3rd course. I chose ‘Salt Cod Carpaccio, Blood Orange & Dill’ to start.

It was a nice dish; not actually a blood orange and I would have liked a little more orange flavour in the dressing. But I enjoyed it; it’s the kind of dish I really like as a starter: fresh tasting, light (you don’t want to fill yourself up before the main event) and a fish carpaccio has a little element of luxury – it’s not something I make at home (even though it’s not difficult; just requires excellent and very fresh fish).

There were a couple of classic pasta dishes on the Mains plus ‘potato gnocchi mussels, cherry tomatoes & prawn bisque’. If you fancied meat, a ‘roast pork chop with castelluccio lentils & baby gem’. I was quite tempted to ‘pasta e fagioli, borlotti beans & rosemary’ but opted for ‘Pappardelle with Wild Mushrooms, Gran Padano’.

It really was fabulous. Very simple as so often the best Italian food is; a lovely selection of mushrooms in a buttery sauce. The pappardelle pasta was perfectly cooked.

I didn’t need a dessert – the portions of starter and main had been good – but I couldn’t resist with food this good. And I still had plenty of time to spare before setting off to the NPG. I decided to have ‘Tiramisu’ (the other dessert was ‘Sicilian cannolo, sweet ricotta & orange’. For cheese, Taleggio (one of my favourite Italian cheeses) was served with cranberry chutney & carasau bread.

It was an excellent Tiramisu; really good. I’m very, very fussy about Tiramisu as it’s so often badly done but this was truly Italian in its authenticity. I finished with an espresso (£2.10).

Mele e Pere was a great find. Good Italian food, friendly service and a good value early evening menu – definitely a place to return to!

Mele e Pere Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Review: Canela, Covent Garden


A couple of weeks ago, while wandering round a bitterly cold Covent Garden before meeting a friend for an early evening meal, I came across Canela. It’s rare to see a Portuguse cafe-restaurant in London and because I’d recently made some Pasteis de Nata for the first time, I was particularly intrigued to try Canela out. I made a mental note to return some other time and today provided the perfect opportunity to try it out.

I was booked on a day’s art history course at CityLit. It’s one of London’s best adult education colleges and I’d already done great days on Grayson Perry and Caravaggio. Today I was there for ‘The  Art of Siena’, inspired by having recently booked a short break in Siena in June. I decided to arrive in Covent Garden early enough for a coffee at Canela before heading to the college for a 10.30 start and go again for lunch. I really liked the look of their menu with a mix of plates to share, bar snacks, salads, sandwiches and mains. It’s the kind of place you can go for coffee, breakfast (there’s a separate breakfast menu), a snack, enjoy as a wine bar with friends, or have a more substantial meal.

I’d seen the entrance in Short’s Gardens when I first found Canela, but the address and main entrance is in Earlham Street, which was my route in this morning. It wasn’t long after opening (9am on Saturday and Sundays; 10am other days. They’re open until 9pm on Sundays, 10.30pm Mon-Wed and until 11pm Thurs-Sat).


No one else was there but I walked through to the other entrance and took a table. The waitress was really friendly and welcoming and I ordered just a cappuccino and croissant.

My ‘breakfast’ was very nicely served and even came with a glass of water, continental style. The coffee was good though not exceptional (especially considering I could have got one of the best coffees in London at Monmouth Coffee just round the corner). But I was happy with it all and happy sitting in a welcoming space. It was also well priced for central London, at £2.50 for the croissant with butter and jam, and £2.80 for the coffee.

Back there at lunchtime, I took a table in the larger space fronting Earlham Street. The waitress recognised me and welcomed me back. By now the cafe was busier and it had a nice continental feel to it, which I really liked. I haven’t been to Portugal, though Lisbon is high on my list of places to visit (not just for the Pasteis de Nata!), so I can’t say it felt like being in Portugal, but I could certainly imagine that I was away on holiday rather than in central London (much as I love my home city!).

There was a large central communal table in the centre and smaller tables to the sides; I took one for 2, sitting on the banquette looking out into the cafe. I ordered some sparkling water and it was Portuguese (£3). It was slightly tempting looking at the list of Portuguese wines to indulge at lunchtime, but with another three hours of art history to go, it didn’t really seem like a good plan.

I’m a great fan of baccalà – salt cod – and always eat lots of it in Venice where it often comes in a creamy mix, mantecato, on small pieces of toast as ciccheti. Thus I couldn’t resist the main of Bacalhau à Brás – Canela’s Classic Salt Cod, Potato, Egg and Salad (£13.50).

When it arrived, it wasn’t quite what I’d expected. I think I’d had ‘cold’ in mind because of all that Venetian food, and more of a salad, whereas it was a warm mix. However, it tasted really delicious and I immediately liked it. The unfortunate drawback was it contained lots of bones so I had to eat it very carefully. This seemed lazy cooking to me; cod bones are quite large so there’s no excuse for not removing them when preparing a dish like this. It was a shame because I was really feeling Canela was a good find and I’d certainly go back – but maybe give the salt cod a miss!

Well, of course, I couldn’t leave without trying their Pasteis de Nata (or Pastel de Nata as they and many others call them). I’d read they’re some of the best in London. I ordered one (£2) and an espresso (£2.20) to go with it.

Well this really was excellent. The pastry was so light and flaky; the custard a good consistency – thick but not heavy and not too sweet; the dusting of cinnamon on top traditional and perfect. The espresso was good too. I can see I’m going to be tempted back into Canela anytime I’m passing for a Pasteis de Nata and espresso! But it’s also got a good kind of vibe that makes it a great place to hang out either alone or with friends when in the Covent Garden area.

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

Snowy Richmond upon Thames


I should confess straight off that I’m not really a fan of snow. I don’t get excited by its arrival; at least not in London, maybe in a wintry Switzerland or if I was in the country and didn’t have to go out and do anything. But I’m a summer-loving person born under the Sun sign of Aries and I live in London. Snow in London may start pretty but it doesn’t last long. Everything grinds to a halt because we don’t  have the infrastructure to support snowy weather and walking along slippery pavements and driving on icy roads is seriously hazardous.

But let me not be a total misery! I know – some of you love it! And after I’d taken the bus into Richmond this morning and had a welcome, warming coffee in Paul, I walked part of the way back home, across Richmond Green and down to the River Thames and along the towpath, before crossing Richmond Bridge and jumping on a bus again, because even though there was snow on the ground, the sun was also shining. And even I couldn’t fail to see the beauty of Richmond with its light blanket of snow set against a glorious blue sky. So of course out came my iPhone and I started snapping.

But I also got thinking about the positive side of the weather; not just its beauty. I had to slow down. I’m always rushing but rushing on ice is dangerous, so I walked slowly. And because it really was quite icy underfoot, I practised the Walking Meditation that I learnt in Mindfulness Meditation where you are aware of each movement of your leg as it moves forward and steps down; the lifting of the other leg as you go forwards into another step. It takes you totally into the moment; you can’t think of anything else and plenty of studies have shown that a mental break like this is good for us. I worked on accepting change and going with the flow; aware that my nice plans for the days immediately ahead may have to change, be postponed, with more snow forecast. And I remembered when I first visited Richmond, long before marriage and children, because a friend was at college here, and I thought how lovely it was and how wonderful it would be to live here. I really wanted to live in Richmond one day. And I did. I do. So sometimes dreams do come true! And here is some of beautiful Richmond to share with you:


Radicchio, Pancetta & Red Wine Risotto


I don’t usually buy flavoured rice, or indeed many flavoured anythings. I generally prefer to do my own flavouring. However, when I saw a pack of risotto rice flavoured with dried radicchio in the wonderful Corto Italian Deli, it seemed too tempting to resist.

I just love radicchio and it’s proved impossible to buy in recent years. I once bought it regularly in Waitrose but they haven’t stocked it for years and nor have any other supermarkets I’ve been to. It’s strange. It’s frequently an ingredient in bags of mixed salad but I never see the actual thing – a head of fresh radicchio – anywhere. I discussed this with Romina in Corto – she showed me the radicchio she had, ready to put in salads, but said she got it from a supplier and agreed it was hard to buy. She told me she preferred radicchio di  Treviso, which is longer than the round radicchio di Chioggia that’s most commonly found in UK. I’ve seen radicchio di Treviso in Italy, with its long leaves and fairly wide white stems, but never in UK. Here it is from a trip to Rome a few years ago – labelled Tardivo but the same as Radicchio di Treviso.

Romina assured me that the radicchio flavoured risotto rice was very good and because I know she stocks the very best Italian ingredients I decided to buy a pack. Obviously I was going to make risotto but had some pancetta in my fridge and thought that would be a nice addition. Radicchio and pancetta or bacon are quite a popular combination and I’d seen risotto recipes combining radicchio and red wine. So, that all sounded good and supper was sorted!

Radicchio, Pancetta & Red Wine Risotto (serves 1)

  • ½ cup radicchio risotto rice
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 77g diced pancetta (or streaky bacon)
  • about 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 50ml red wine
  • about 1½ cups hot stock or water
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 10g butter
  • some freshly ground Parmesan

Measure the rice into a cup.

Put the shallot and pancetta in a pan with the olive oil. Cook over a medium heat until the pancetta is  lightly coloured all over and the shallot softening.


Add the rice and cook, stirring all the time, for a couple of minutes so each grain of rice is covered in oil. Now pour in the red wine and season with freshly ground black pepper. You can add a little salt but may not need it as the pancetta will be quite salty and if your stock is also salted, then it’s probably best to leave adding extra salt until the end.


Stir well and let it bubble gently, stirring most of the time, until the red wine is absorbed. Now start adding the hot stock or water, little by little and continuing to stir. Stirring is what breaks up the starches in the rice and gives the risotto its creamy texture. It may sound hard work but for me it’s the wonder of making risotto, so relaxing and a time to really put love into your food.

Keep adding the stock until the rice is almost cooked – it should have that al dente bite to it: cooked but still with a little resistance when bitten. You want the liquid to be absorbed but the overall risotto still nicely wet and not dry. This is risotto – not pilau! Turn off the heat and check seasoning. Now add the butter and a little grated Parmesan. Stir and put the lid back on and leave for a minute or two. Then it’s ready to serve.

I served mine with simple salad of rocket and finely sliced fennel.

The risotto looked very inviting. I grated some extra Parmesan on top and drizzled over a little olive oil.

It felt like a very wintry risotto with its deep red colour and deep warming flavours. Just perfect for a cold February evening! It was a wonderful combination of flavours: bitter radicchio, salty pancetta and a sweetness from the creamy risotto, butter and Parmesan.

The radicchio flavoured risotto rice was brilliant and I’ll definitely buy more. It’s very pure – just Carnaroli rice, dried radicchio and a little dried parsley and onion. No extras. If you’re not lucky enough to have a wonderful Italian deli near you like Corto, but you can actually find fresh radicchio, then do try making this risotto with that!

Pasteis de Nata – Portuguese Custard Tarts


This post was an act of sheer determination; well, the cooking was. I’d heard Pastéis de Nata were difficult to make, but clearly a certain amount of hubris took me over: just how difficult can it be to make custard tarts! Well, I was soon to discover … There were a few moments when I nearly gave up and threw the whole attempt into the bin. Fortunately, I persisted. And if persistence sometimes brings rewards then this was an example of how you should try to not give up too early but keep going. For in the end, I had a plate of delicious Pastéis de Nata to put before my family at lunchtime.

It started with a recipe for the little pastéis in National Geographic Food magazine. Well, more accurately, it began because my family are all addicted to these gorgeous little custard tarts. We can buy excellent ones in Your Bakery Whitton and when I visit my daughter in Worcestershire, she even puts in an order, asking me to take some up to her. But the idea of making them was tempting. So, I looked at the recipe in the magazine and I also looked in Rick Stein’s Long Weekends cookbook, remembering he’d been to Lisbon. And sure enough, there was a recipe there. His recipe made 28. Sure I could cut down the recipe but he also makes the pastry from scratch while the magazine recipe used bought all-butter puff pastry. A shortcut was too tempting. So I bought the all-butter puff pastry in Waitrose and soon I was ready to go.

But then there were more things to think of: the magazine recipe said to use muffin tins and the recipe made 6. Six! And muffin tins. I’ve eaten a lot of pastéis de nata in my time and they’re quite small, more cupcake size than muffin. I decided to go with small ones – though still wasn’t planning on Rick’s 28!

Buying the pastry made that part sound easy. But oh no! There were complicated instructions about rolling it up to a tight sausage shape and cutting 6 discs of 1-2cm thick. How was that going to work? I’d have an enormous amount of pastry left. So I just used my cutter and cut discs in the normal way, brushed the tin with melted butter and then pressed the discs in. After that you chill it in the fridge while you make the custard.


I heated the milk with the cinnamon and lemon zest and some butter as instructed.


Then you mix plain and cornflour together with a little milk. As I started to put it all together it occurred to me that nowhere in the ‘method’ was an instruction for what to do with the 2 egg yolks. Thank goodness for Rick. He saved me. I started to move from one recipe to another.


I added Rick’s vanilla because I thought that sounded a good idea.


I followed Rick’s easier instructions with the syrup (which is added to the custard) but I didn’t put in nearly as much as either recipe. I didn’t want the custard too sweet. So I judged it right for me by adding it a little at a time.


So, here is the recipe I came up with in the end – a combination of the two I looked at – and hopefully it will work more easily for you!

Pastéis de Nata

  • 1 pack (320g) all-butter puff pastry
  • melted butter for greasing
  • 20g butter
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste


  • 250ml whole milk
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • few strips lemon zest

Sugar syrup

  • 225g caster sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • few strips lemon zest

1. Unfold the pastry onto a floured surface. Melt the butter and lightly brush the insides of a cupcake tin. Cut out 12 discs to fit the little moulds and push in well. Put in fridge to chill.

2. Make the custard: put the milk in a small pan (saving just a little, about 50ml, for the next step) with the cinnamon stick and lemon zest. Bring slowly to a simmer. Turn off the heat. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

3. In a bowl, mix the 2 flours with the reserved milk to form a paste. Remove the cinnamon stick and lemon zest from the warm milk and pour slowly over the flour paste, mixing as you go. Pour back into a clean pan with half the butter. Cook over a medium heat, stirring well, until you have a custard the thickness of double cream. (If it starts to go lumpy, remove from the heat and beat vigorously before carrying on.) Remove from heat and add the remaining butter, 2 egg yolks and vanilla paste. Beat well.

4. Make the sugar syrup: put the caster sugar in a pan with the cinnamon stick and lemon zest. Bring to a rolling boil and boil until it goes a light caramel colour. Remove from the heat and pour, a little at a time, into the custard, beating well with each addition. This is the point at which I took quantity into my own hand and tasted as I went. I didn’t use all the syrup but kept what was over to brush some over the tarts at the end – which the magazine did.

5. Spoon the custard into the prepared pastry cases. Mine took about a dessertspoonful each. I had a little over. You can either make more tarts – or decide 12 are enough, as I did!

6. Put the tray into a very hot oven (240C/220 Fan/Gas 9) for about 10-13 minutes, or until the tops of the custard tarts are deep golden brown in places.

7. Remove from the oven. Brush over a little of the leftover syrup to glaze the tops. Leave a couple of minutes and then carefully transfer to a rack to cool. Dust with icing sugar when cold, maybe mixed a bit of cinnamon too.

Mine weren’t all perfect. Some had the custard spilling out. However, overall they looked pretty good. But of course the judging was all in how they tasted.

I served them with some fresh strawberries and raspberries on the side. I was pleased with how they looked. They really did look like pastéis de nata!

They tasted wonderful. The custard was nicely creamy still and not too sweet. In the end I was very pleased I’d carried on and made them and the family loved them. I have to admit though that with Your Bakery Whitton within walking distance, and selling such good ones, I’m not sure when I’ll get round to making these again!

Restaurant Review: Franco Manca, Russell Square


Since I first wrote about Franco Manca over 2 years ago, the chain has boomed and grown from 10 outlets to 42. Most are in London but now some are outside the capital in places like Bournemouth, Brighton and Guildford. Giuseppe Mascoli opened his first Franco Manca in a small outlet in Brixton Market in 2008. It was such a success it fast became ‘the’ place to go for authentic Neopolitan pizza. Mascoli, a Neapolitan himself, was once an economics lecturer before deciding to bring the famous food of his home city of Naples to London and growing himself a small empire.  In March 2015 he sold Franco Manca to Fulham Shore, who own a number of restaurant chains, for £27.5 million. However, back in Italy he’s now opened another Franco Manca on the little Aeolian island of Salina

What’s special about Franco Manca’s pizzas is their slow-rising sourdough base; the pizzas are then cooked in a wood burning oven at 500C. This blast of hot heat gives the perfect Neopolitan pizza: a soft, deep crust with a touch of charring on the outside. They source the best products to top their pizzas: Gloucester Old Spot sausage and ham, Iberico chorizo, dry San Marzano tomatoes (grown in the volcanic soil under Mount Vesuvius, they are thought by some to be the only tomatoes to be used on an authentic Neopolitan pizza,) wild broccoli and the finest mozzarella, which they make themselves daily in Somerset, overseen by a cheese maker from Southern Italy.

The menu is simple – there are 7 pizzas to choose from, and they’re numbered, not named. You can have extra toppings; there are 2 side salads to choose from and, if you don’t want pizza at all, 2 main salads. But basically it’s pizza … you really only go there to eat pizza. And the pizzas are fantastically priced for London, ranging from £4.95 for the classic marinara pizza, No.1, of Tomato, Garlic & Oregano to No.7 that comes with Dry San Marzano tomatoes, roasted potatoes, onions, mozzarella, Colston Bassett stilton and seasonal pesto at £8.15.

I often meet a friend at the Bloomsbury Curzon cinema just off Russell Square. Usually we see a film early and eat after. There’s not a great choice nearby and we’ve tended to go to Carluccio’s, but it’s not been so great recently. So, I looked up what else was nearby and found that a Franco Manca had opened there. Remembering that I had to queue for 35 minutes when I went to the South Kensington branch, I suggested we eat early before the 7.00pm showing of the film. We reckoned it would be easier to get a table then than after the film … and it was, though it filled up fast. You can’t book; only for 6 or more.

It’s all very minimal inside, stools at the tables rather than chairs. But it has that irresistible Italian sophistication that shines through even in the simplest of decor. So too did it have that wonderful Italian friendliness and charm. Everyone was very friendly, from our welcome, to food and drink coming to us with quick efficiency and a smile, to our leaving when the pizzaiolo called goodbye from his spot by the hot oven. It made us feel we’d definitely go back. My friend Nicola remarked how much she liked Italians, but then who couldn’t like Italians (even if they’re not all perfect!).

I chose No.5 pizza: Tomato, garlic, oregano, capers, olives, anchovies & mozzarella (£7.25).

It looked fabulous and it tasted fabulous. They’re big pizzas too. I also had a side salad: mixed salad leaves, alfalfa sprouts & Franco’s dressing (£2.45).

Nicola confessed that she’d had an unplanned pizza for lunch so decided to order a main salad instead: Butterhead lettuce & mixed salad leaves, alfalfa sprouts, British chicken, crispy Gloucester Old Spot bacon, caramelised onions, Cantarelli Grana & Franco’s dressing (£7.65).

She was very impressed. She said it was really good and very fresh. They hadn’t overdone the dressing and it tasted as if it had just been put together (which I’m sure it had!).

There were tempting desserts like Tiramisu, a Lemon Almond Cake, and Chocolate Hazelnut Cake for £3.95 but we stuck to coffee for me and peppermint tea for Nicola. We each also had a 175ml glass of Nero d’Avola red wine for £4.25 with the meal.

It was all excellent – food, ambience and service. The bill at £28 (£14 each) was excellent too. There’s always the worry when a good, innovative restaurant gets bought out by a giant company that they’ll lose that special edge that brought fame in the first place, and the food will become bland and uniform; that they’ll cut corners and standards will drop. But so far Franco Manca stays apparently the same as it ever was. And long may that last!

Franco Manca, Russell Square Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Review: Mon Plaisir


I was meeting my friend Chris, who lives in north London, for an evening meal and we settled on Covent Garden as a good ‘halfway’ meeting place. I fancied trying somewhere different to my usual haunts and remembered that I’ve been meaning to return to Mon Plaisir for sometime, having often passed it when in the area and thinking, I must go back there.

Mon Plaisir was a regular haunt at one time, but many years ago. It was at least 20 years since I’d eaten there. Chris also knew it from a long time ago but hadn’t been back for about the same amount of time as me.

Located in Covent Garden’s Seven Dials district, that’s become very fashionable of late, the restaurant is known as London’s oldest French restaurant. Established during the 1940s by the Viala brothers, it stayed in their family until 1972 when it was bought by Alain Lhermitte, who continued the tradition of serving authentic French food. What I’d remembered from years ago – and at a time when I regularly holidayed with the family in France – was that it was like being transported to a little corner of France for the evening. Everything about it, from the ambience to the food and the staff was French. But would it be quite as I remembered it?

We’d booked for 6.30pm, in time to have the Pre- or Post-Theatre Menu that’s served from 5.45-7.00 and then after 9.30. It’s priced at £16.95 for 2 courses, including coffee, and £18.95 for 3 courses.

I arrived slightly early, escaping the bitter wind outside and seeking warmth. They checked whether I was planning to go to the theatre (good point) and I said, No. (I noticed on the menu that people having the pre-theatre menu had to vacate the table by 8.00, which I hadn’t been warned about when I booked by phone. However, it clearly wasn’t busy enough for them to need the table back as we sat there talking until 9.15!) I was shown to the Back Room. Mon Plaisir is a little bit like a rabbit warren with various rooms branching out through narrow passageways; sometimes you have to duck your head! I’d always sat in the front before, overlooking Monmouth Street, and apparently the Back Room was the first expansion of the restaurant in the 1980s.


There was a choice of 3 starters – Soup of the Day, Pork Terrine with Mushrooms, and Seasonal Salad. I asked what was in the seasonal salad and had a vision of a classic French crudités plate being put before me. It wasn’t quite that. There was a good selection of vegetables – lettuce, carrots, radishes, tomatoes, potato – but unfortunately it was smothered in a heavy balsamic dressing, resulting in it not being as ‘fresh’ tasting as I’d expected. Balsamic dressing isn’t really French anyway (balsamic is woefully overused these days and not always appropriate), and I would have preferred a proper French dressing made with wine or cider vinegar. However, it was OK; just nothing to get excited about. The waitress offered us bread from a large basket before the starters arrived, but it’s preferable to have a basket left on the table.

Chris said her pork terrine was OK, but again, nothing special – and I could see that too had balsamic drizzled over it.

There were 3 main courses on offer: Fish of the Day, Penne with Grilled Vegetables and Pesto, and Blanquette de Volaille – chicken in light cream sauce with pearl barley, which was my choice.

I was a bit taken aback by 2 very ordinary crisps sitting on top! There was a lot of chicken (I wouldn’t go hungry) but it was a little dry and the overall dish lacked seasoning. Again, not a ‘bad’ dish but not ‘very good’ either.

Chris had the fish of the day – mackerel. This also came with crisps on top! She thought it was OK, but again the overall opinion was that it wasn’t anything special.

Neither of us wanted a dessert but there was Crème Caramel or Apple Tart with Cinnamon Ice Cream on offer. I had the coffee which was part of the menu and Chris asked for peppermint tea. My coffee was actually very good and I enjoyed it.

We were both a bit disappointed. Mon Plaisir wasn’t as we’d remembered it. Had we somehow ‘romanticised’ those meals from years ago in our minds and memory or had they really been better. I guess we’ll never know. The meal wasn’t a disaster but there are certainly better places to get an early evening menu in Covent Garden. The French ambience now felt tired and a little touristy. What a shame.

Mon Plaisir Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato