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Travel Gourmet’s Top 5 Gelaterie in London

With the weather warming up and the sun shining at last, we’re definitely moving into the ‘ice cream season’. Though in truth, I’ll eat ice cream at any time of the year. I confess to having a big addiction to ice cream; well, gelato. I’m an ice cream snob (I’ll own up so you don’t need to accuse me). I don’t buy those old British favourites that you find in your local newsagent, I seek out the many and growing number of wonderful Italian gelaterie in London. Thus this will probably turn into an ongoing post that needs frequent revision (and frequent tastings of gelato!) for I have sampled only a few, so there are many, many more to try. But of the ones I know, here are my favourites. And while I rarely stick my neck out on these pages and attribute rankings – I’m doing it here … and top of this list has to be my local and very wonderful …

1. Gelateria Danieli, Richmond upon Thames

Tucked down the pretty alleyway, Brewer’s Lane, off the centre of Richmond’s high street, you will find some of the very best gelato in London. Made in-house and overseen by owners Carlo, who comes from Sicily, and Bridget, a nutritionist, there’s a fabulous choice of flavours, and the gelato is to die for. Currently you can have a small cup for £2.50 with 2 flavours; a medium cup is £4. My favourite flavours are Crema Siciliana (oranges and lemons) and Dark Chocolate Sorbet. Their pistachio is heavenly too, made from the finest Bronte pistachios, which grow in the Mount Etna region of Sicily, and are thought by many to be the best in the world. They use organic and natural ingredients with no artificial flavourings or colourings. You can eat in or on a lovely summer’s day, walk to the end of the alleyway and sit on a bench on the edge of beautiful Richmond Green. Click here for more on Gelateria Danieli.

2. La Gelatiera, Covent Garden

I’d passed this gelateria many times in New Row, Covent Garden, before I tried it. I’d read great things about it but never seemed to be there at a good time to indulge in gelato. It was my friend Lucia who suggested meeting there one evening. And I’m so glad she did! Why had I taken such a long time to try it? The ice cream is fantastic and they have frequent changes of flavours and some really exciting ones. Their hand-crafted ice creams are made daily in small batches and contain only the finest ingredients, they offer flavours like ‘Honey, Rosemary & Orange Zest’ and ‘Basil & Chilli’, and ‘Watercress & Lime’. When I was there last summer, a medium cup with 3 flavours was £4.50. For more about La Gelatiera, click here.

3.  Gelupo, Soho

It was my Italian teacher Fabio who told me about Gelupo (part of Bocco di Lupo restaurant). I’ve been back many times since my first visit in 2014 and introduced it to my family. It’s always a temptation to pop in if I’m in the Shaftesbury Avenue/Piccadilly Circus area and last time I went was just before meeting friends at a nearby theatre; I was so close I couldn’t resist. They have some exciting flavours too – ‘Strawberry & Pink Pepper’, ‘Avocado Sorbet’ and ‘Lemon & Rosemary’. It really is exceptionally good artisan gelato. For more about Gelupo (and Bocca di Lupo) click here.

4. Amorino, Covent Garden

Amorino is a worldwide chain, but don’t let that put you off! The ice cream is wonderful. I’d eaten in Amorino in France and Italy but only finally got round to trying out one of the London branches last week, after a gelato conversation with Fabio, who told me how good it is. For more, click here.

5. Scoop, Covent Garden

Scoop was another recommendation from Lucia. You can see I’ve clearly been getting the right authentic Italian advice where gelato is concerned! Made daily, this fabulous artisan gelato can be found in Covent Garden, South Kensington and Harvey Nichols. For more about Scoop, click here.

With all this gelato excitement, I’ve introduced a new ‘Gelaterie – Ice Cream Shops’ category on the blog so you can quickly check out where to find the best ice cream: click here. And I think you may be sure that I will be adding to it over the coming summer months!

What’s your favourite gelateria in London? Do please let us know!

A Spring Morning Walk in Kew Gardens

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This post is for my dear friend Jane – and she will know why.

Spring is very late coming this year. I know this particularly as it’s my birthday in a couple of days’ time and so I can recall birthdays when spring was further along, apple blossom on trees, a taste of summer in the air and even sun cream needed. However, the long wet winter and frequent strong cold winds have kept that March feeling going for far too long, so it’s been great over the last day or so to be blessed with some warm weather – and sun!!

With blue skies and the promise of the temperature hitting the early 20s, I couldn’t resist going to Kew Gardens this morning. You’ll find a lot of information about these world famous botanical gardens on the blog, so this is more of a photo post – to share my lovely walk. I entered the Gardens by the lower Lion Gate, rather than my usual main Victoria Gate. This is a quieter area, close to the Pagoda (that’s currently undergoing renovation so has some scaffolding on it) and a wooded area.

   

By the Japanese garden, cherry trees were in full blossom and looked so beautiful.

   

Cherry blossom and a very tall pine tree reaching up to catch the sun.

   

I found a huge and wonderful tree house that’s just been built. It won’t open until the summer but you can enjoy walking round this quiet woodland area, follow a log trail and see the badger sett.

I always love spending time by the lake and there are plenty of benches to sit and enjoy a moment of peace. Although there were some very noisy geese chasing around this morning, calling excitedly to one another.

   

   

In the main, trees and bushes were still fairly bare of blossom – apart from those wonderful cherry trees. Even the magnolias were hardlly showing signs of flowers. I guess I might have found camellias flowering, as my own in my garden are, but Kew Gardens is a huge place and I didn’t get round to the ‘camellia’ area today.

   

The area outside the Palm House is always well planted out, changing frequently with the seasons, and this was full of colour.

It was a lovely walk. It’s a privilege to live so close to these fabulous Gardens, and lucky that I can visit them early in the morning, and midweek, when it’s not as crowded as weekends. If you want to see more photos of Kew, or know more about the Gardens, take a look at my A Year in Kew Gardens series when I followed Kew through a whole year, recording the changes and highlights of each month.

Gelateria Review: Amorino, Covent Garden

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My Italian teacher Fabio comes fortnightly and for an hour we discuss what’s been going on in our (mainly my) world for the past two weeks. We talk food a lot. He’s been a loyal follower of my blog for as long as I’ve known him and like all my Italian friends knows a lot about food, especially Italian food. And of course writing the blog, food is a big focus of my thoughts. From time to time we talk about which is our favourite gelateria in London. For a long time we’ve both named Gelupo at the top but Fabio surprised me a couple of weeks ago by saying it had dropped down a little for him, to No.3, and his top two were my local Gelateria Danieli (where co-owner Carlo is from Sicily like Fabio) and Amorino. I agreed with Danieli but added La Gelatiera in Covent Garden as another favourite of mine.

I was slightly surprised by his choice of Amorino as I’ve always thought of it as a chain. It’s hard to get away from the idea that a ‘chain’ of anything is mediocre. But then I’ve had ice cream at Amorino in Nice, Deauville and Florence – they started in Italy in 2002 and now have boutiques worldwide –  and have always enjoyed it. They use only natural flavourings, nothing artificial and some organic produce. So, I decided I had to go to an Amorino in London soon. And today I passed one at a time when I was on the lookout for food and thus was presented with the ideal opportunity.

I was due to attend a course at Two Temple Place on Jazz & Art History with the brilliant Hotel Alphabet in the afternoon. I headed into London early enough to get some lunch before the course began at 2.00pm. It was very busy when I got to Covent Garden and I settled on a salad in Carluccio’s; mainly on account of my actually being able to get a seat and table! I’d only wanted a snack; not a meal. By a wonderful stroke of serendipity, a branch of Amorino was just opposite in Garrick Street. Thus, after my ‘healthy’ salad, I crossed the road and went into the gelateria.

I always have gelato in a cup; never a cone. This partly arises from once having spent five weeks in Rome and some of the gelatiere wouldn’t even offer ice cream in cones so I decided it wasn’t the done thing – when in Rome always ask for a cup. And the habit has stayed. But then I’m someone who never wants bread or biscuits with cheese – I want to taste the cheese on its own. So it makes sense to taste ice cream on its own too.

There was a choice of 4 or 5 sizes and I went for the smallest at £3.70. It was a pretty good size though; perhaps a medium size in some other places. How many flavours could I have, I asked the girl behind the counter. As many as I wanted, she replied. Gosh! Well, I’d never been told that before. Sometimes a small cup is strictly one flavour; occasionally you might be allowed two. But as many as I liked! Well, I certainly had to have more than one! So I chose three: hazelnut-chocolate, raspberry and pistachio.

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They had macarons too, which looked good, but I resisted those. I ordered a macchiato and was given my ice cream and told to take a seat and she’d bring my coffee.

   

It was a generous helping of ice cream. I tucked in. Wow! It really was very good. I loved the pistachio, which had a few whole pistachios in it – and of course no colouring, so a natural colour. The chocolate-hazelnut was like a gelato version of Turin’s famous gianduiotto and absolutely fabulous. The raspberry a gorgeous flavour with that slight ‘raspberry’ tartness and not too sweet. I thought the ice cream a little denser, less light and soft than many I’ve had, but none the worse for it. It really is superb ice cream.

   

I seem to have got into a new habit of ordering a macchiato with ice cream and this was a perfect one: a good espresso served with a little foam on top. There are 12 Amorino boutiques in London, from Ealing in the West to Stratford in the East and a number in central London. Find one! And enjoy some fabulous Italian ice cream.

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

Restaurant Review: Côte Brasserie, Royal Festival Hall

My friend Annette was in London for a few days; back from Italy where she now lives. It was great to meet up and she suggested visiting the Hayward Gallery, which has recently undergone a major makeover. Built in the 1960s, the Hayward is a fine example of Brutalist architecture, which was popular at the time. To be honest, I’ve always found its ‘brutalist’ style rather off-putting and uncomfortable and I hadn’t been for a while, but from what I could remember there seemed to now be a new lightness; the gallery was much more attractive, even though still very minimalist, with more natural light coming in. The first exhibition features the photos of renowned German photographer, Andreas Gursky, ‘a true innovator engaged in thinking about and picturing the times we live in’ (Ralph Rugoff, Hayward Gallery Director). It was indeed an excellent exhibition and it sparked a great discussion between us.

When we emerged from the gallery around 6.45pm, it was much busier with people coming to the South Bank after work. Where should we eat? We looked at the BFI (British Film Institute) but their restaurant was closed for renovation. We headed towards the Royal Festival Hall, just a little further along where there are a large number of restaurants, though all chains; most OK but nothing very exciting. Long queues were forming and so we decided to go up to the next level, Festival Terrace, which runs along one side of the Festival Hall, as we knew there was a Pain Quotidien there. As we pondered whether to join their queue, Annette spotted a Côte a couple of doors further down. There was a queue here too but we were told the wait was only 10 minutes. I looked at my watch; it was 6.50. I knew their Early Evening Menu finished at 7pm. I asked the guy – who seemed to be the manager – whether we could still have the fixed price menu. Certainly, he assured us, and he’d also give us complimentary drinks to enjoy while we waited. Soon we had a glass of delicious French pink fizz in our hands and indeed a table did materialise in only 10 minutes.

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We were shown to a nice table downstairs – a table for 4 but just for us. There was a good buzz from happy people around us but our table in a quieter corner was perfect.

This branch of Côte only opened a month ago. I’ve been a big fan of the Richmond branch for some time, although have had less happy experiences at a couple of other branches. That’s always the way with chains: there’s a certain reliability you can count on but an inevitable variation because of different staff in the kitchen and front of house. At this Côte on the South Bank, everyone was incredibly friendly and helpful, right from the moment we walked in. Annette joked that maybe my ‘fame’ came before me and I was recognised as a food blogger; maybe it was their enthusiasm from opening a new branch. But actually I find the service at Côte is almost always excellent: friendly, wonderfully efficient and if there is any problem they deal with it perfectly. This is what makes you want to go back – and also for their great value early evening menu. At just £12.95 for 2 courses and £14.95 for 3 courses, it’s hard to beat.

Côte do manage to convey a sense of being in France too; the decor and ambience go a long way to temporarily transporting you to Paris, from the (mostly) French staff to the (now rare) linen napkins. The menu contains French classics and the wine list is made up totally of French wines.

The early evening menu offers a good choice with 7 starters and 7 mains. I opted for ‘Pear and Endive Salad’ – pear and endive salad with frisée, croutôns, goats’ cheese and toasted hazelnut and mustard dressing.

It was a good size portion, nicely presented, very fresh and tasted delicious. The dressing was perfect: the salad nicely coated but not drowned; a good balance between sweet and acidic.

Annette chose ‘Tuna Rillettes’ – flaked tuna ‘rillettes’ with fines herbes, lemon and toasted sourdough. She was very complimentary about it and so we both enjoyed our starters a lot.

We ordered 175ml glasses of Chablis (£7.50) to have with our meal, which was also very good. Côte always serve complimentary filtered water in a bottle, which I like; it’s a step up from tap water but makes buying bottled water unnecessary.

We chose the same main: ‘Sea Bream’ – grilled sea bream with courgette purée and shaved courgette, broad bean and rocket salad.

Again, this had a wonderful freshness to it. The sea bream was perfectly cooked – moist flesh with a crispy skin. The courgette and broad bean side was really good and a delightful accompaniment.

Neither of us wanted a dessert (though there was a good choice) and had just coffee. We’d sat there happily eating and talking for a couple of hours. Every so often, but not obtrusively, the waitress checked everything was OK. The bill for the two of us, including tip, was just under £52. It’s amazing value for central London: the service had been wonderful, the food very good and the ambience perfect. I can see this new Côte is going to become a regular haunt for without doubt it’s the best place for a reasonably priced meal along that part of the South Bank.

Cote Brasserie Royal Festival Hall Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Win a Year’s Subscription to GPSmyCity

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GPSmyCity have been successfully publishing travel articles and self-guided tours on their app since 2009. With more than 6,500 articles and tours exploring over 1,000 cities worldwide, if you’re about to head off for a city break, or perhaps make an excursion to a city from a beach holiday, you’re almost bound to find a brilliant article to guide you to making the most of your time in your chosen city.

GPSmyCity’s mobile apps – iOS and Android – feature self-guided city walks and GPS-powered travel articles that turn your smartphone or tablet into your very own personal guide. Each walk or article comes with a detailed travel route plotted on an offline map to lead you to all the attractions mentioned. You can go at your own pace; you can read the article and use the map offline so you don’t need to use data roaming or find WiFi; nor do you have to carry guidebooks and maps with you. You won’t get lost and you’ll be guided to the best attractions, cultural sights, markets, cafes, bars and restaurants in the city and be given information about them.

The GPSmyCity app is free to download (see their website) and you can access all articles for free but to get the true GPSmyCity experience, and the best out of the app, with a customised offline map and GPS directions to guide you around the city to all places mentioned in the article, you pay a small upgrade fee of $1.99 per article. So successful has the app been that GPSmyCity have now introduced a subscription option so you can always have the ‘full GPSmyCity experience’ with you on your phone or tablet, wherever you are, to access at any time. You can buy an annual subscription to all travel articles for 900+ cities worldwide for $12.99/year OR $18.99/year for full access to all walking tours + travel articles covering 1,000+ cities.

GPSmyCity now publish nearly 30 of my travel articles, which I’m very excited about. I’m also excited that they’ve offered to give 10 of my followers a free one-year subscription (each worth $18.99). Thus I’m setting a competition to give everyone the chance of winning this great prize and the opportunity to try out GPSmyCity for free for a whole year. This is great timing as we head into spring, with summer ahead of us, and you have the opportunity to have this guide for wherever your travel plans are taking you in 2018.

For a chance to win the competition, tell me in less than 50 words via a Comment below what your dream travel destination is and why you want to go there. All entries must be in by Monday 23 April. I’ll choose the most interesting entries as winners and in the event of a tie (i.e. I can’t choose from so many great ideas!), I’ll draw 10 names from a shortlist in a hat. Winners will be notified by email of how they can claim their prize.

So – get thinking! Where would you love to go if you could choose anywhere in the world and there were no limitations, like money and what you can afford. What is your dream destination and why? Tell me below in Comments and maybe you’ll be a winner! (Unfortunately I can’t send you to your destination but I am looking forward to hearing about where people dream of going!)

San Marzano Tomato Sauce for Pasta

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It was while I was wandering around Waitrose today that I saw packs of San Marzano tomatoes. I’d no particular plans for supper and thus couldn’t resist buying these famous Italian tomatoes to make a pasta sauce. Although actually when I got home, I saw these came from Spain! To be honest, it is a little early for the true tomato season; I’m pretty sure Italians wouldn’t approve of my doing this post now. When I was in Florence last year where many classic recipes contain tomatoes, they believed certain dishes could only be made in June when tomatoes were at their best.

But hey! It’s quite rare to see fresh San Marzano tomatoes here – in some specialist Italian food shops you can find tinned – so I wasn’t going to give a good opportunity up. But what’s so special about these tomatoes, you might ask. Well, the San Marzano tomato is a king amongst tomatoes in Italy. More particularly, in the Campania region. They came originally from the small town of San Marzano sul Sarno near Naples, which lies in the shadow of the Mount Vesuvius volcano. It is said that a true Napoli Margherita pizza can only be made with San Marzano tomatoes. The volcanic soil in which they grow gives them a deep, sweet flavour like no other tomato. Where the pizza comes in, however, is that while they’re not particularly special raw, cooking them produces a wonderful and unique flavour. Long and pointed, they have a firm flesh and few seeds, which makes them ideal for slicing or chopping to cook with. Now – as with mine from Waitrose – they’re grown in other parts of the world, including US, but it’s hard to imagine they can really compete with those genuine Italian ones grown in the volcanic soil.

I make fresh tomato sauce for pasta quite often. It has a different, fresher taste to a sauce made with tinned tomatoes. Tinned tomatoes have their place – just as dried herbs have their place – but seem to me to be a favour better suited to winter with their deep, earthy flavour. Today has been a brilliantly warm and sunny day, so what better than making a supper that reflects the beautiful weather?

Now, I have quite a few Italian friends and I knew I couldn’t risk making the sauce and serving it with the wrong pasta. You may think pasta comes in different shapes and sizes just for the fun of it; buying whichever shape you like the look of. But oh no! Never, ever say that to an Italian! I love their passion for food (well, really passion for life). Italians are always very knowledgeable about food and they have a strong loyalty towards the food of their region. And the thing about pasta that you need to know is that you should always match the shape of your pasta to the kind of sauce you’re serving it with. This is why Italians – especially those from Bologna – get very upset about serving a Bolognese ragu with spaghetti. An Italian would never serve a meat sauce with spaghetti because it’s not the right shape to support the heavy sauce. The sauce needs to cling to the pasta; wrap itself round the pasta.

So, there was only one thing to do. I walked down into central Twickenham and into Corto Italian Deli. I told Romina about my tomatoes – and she was kind enough not to question my using fresh San Marzano so early in the year! – but instead directed me to the perfect pasta for my sauce: Casarecce. There was even a picture on the front of the box of the pasta served with tomato sauce. The sauce would wrap itself into the pasta, she told me.

Back home, nearing suppertime, I got started.

San Marzano Tomato Sauce for Pasta – Serves Two

  • 400g San Marzano tomatoes, skinned and chopped
  • 1 large shallot or small onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra to serve
  • 1 large clove garlic, crushed
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a few fresh basil leaves
  • 200g casarecce pasta
  • Parmesan to serve

   

Cut crosses into each end of the tomatoes (mine were large so I needed to cut both ends) and cover with boiling water. Leave for a couple of minutes then remove. Carefully – as they’ll be hot – peel off the skin (some people plunge them in cold water at this point to prevent burnt fingers). The skin should come off easily.

   

Cut the tomatoes in half and then chop into even-sized pieces- about 1cm cubes.

   

I like to use shallots as they have a milder, sweeter flavour that’s not so overpowering as onion for this kind of sauce, but a mild small onion will do fine. Put the sliced shallot into a pan with the olive oil. Cook gently until the shallot starts to soften.

   

Add the crushed garlic (don’t put in too early or it can become bitter if it browns). Immediately add the chopped tomato and stir to mix. Add seasoning. Bring to a simmer and put a lid on. Leave for 15 minutes, giving it a stir halfway through. I then mashed the sauce down a bit with a potato masher. I didn’t want a smooth sauce, so mashing was a good way to thicken the sauce but retain some bites of tomato.

   

Tear a few basil leaves into the sauce. Stir and put the lid back on and leave for another 5-10 minutes.

   

Meanwhile, start cooking your pasta. Mine needed 9 minutes cooking but check instructions on your packet. Drain. Return to the pan. Check the seasoning of the tomato sauce then add it to the pan of pasta. Stir gently but thoroughly to mix well over a low heat for just a few seconds. Italians always mix the pasta and sauce like this – they never plonk the sauce on top of the pasta! And I think you do get a better flavour doing it this way.

Transfer to serving dishes. Grate over some Parmesan and drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil. Garnish with a few more fresh basil leaves.

I served mine with a side green salad. Really it was the simplest of meals – just a few ingredients. But everything was perfect: the best ingredients cooked to be eaten straight away. The sauce did have a lovely flavour. I’d like to buy more of the tomatoes later in the year when they’re at their best; hopefully find some Italian ones from the Naples area to get the authentic San Marzano experience. Meanwhile, my supper was a glorious way to see the sun set on a perfect spring day and brought back some lovely memories of Italy.

Restaurant Review: Masaniello Surbiton

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The Italians know how to throw a party. Masaniello was opening its new branch in Surbiton this evening and an invitation to regulars and locals went out to join the party. I arrived soon after 6pm when it was due to begin and it was fairly quiet, but a warm welcome from owner/head chef Livio Te, waiter John who I recognised from Twickenham, and I immediately felt at home. Soon I had a glass of prosecco in my hand and was talking to other guests: friends, family, Twickenham regulars, Surbiton locals who’d passed the restaurant in the day when all was being prepared and were invited to come back later for the party. The restaurant started filling up fast and within a short space of time was full to the brim with happy people celebrating the opening of this new Italian restaurant.

The new pizza oven was going full blast at the back, getting ready to bake some of Masaniello’s wonderful pizza. Livio comes from Naples; his family ran a pizzeria there so he definitely knows just what a good Napoli pizza should be.

Meanwhile other foods came out to nibble on: arancini, bruschetta, calamari. Glasses were topped up with prosecco, wine, Aperol spritz. Children were given balloons.

   

   

Livio welcomed everyone; the live music began, a singer with a great voice.

   

The party was in full flow. By now the pizziaolo was busy with the pizza dough, pulling it into shape, adding the toppings, sliding it on to a pizza paddle and straight into the hot oven.

   

It was great to watch it rise so quickly in the oven, puffing up beautifully. Within seconds it seemed, it was ready. Then straight on to waiting plates, a quick cutting into triangular pieces, and people were reaching out and helping themselves to what I consider some of the best pizza in London.

It really was superb. Wonderfully light, the dough had a fantastic flavour.

For now Masaniello Surbiton will be open for breakfast, coffee and lunch – from 8.00am to 5.00pm. But the plan is that in two or three weeks’ time it will it stay open into the evening offering a more extensive menu. There’s also a private dining room downstairs. You’ll find it at 115 Ewell Road, Surbiton KT6 6AL, Tel: 020 8399 8336.

Masaniello Twickenham is one of my favourite restaurants: fantastic food at reasonable prices, consistent quality, with great and wonderfully friendly service. I wish them success in Surbiton and I hope the people of Surbiton soon discover what fantastic Italian food has come to town.

Masaniello, Surbiton Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Classic Tiramisu

I’m reblogging my recipe for Tiramisu, first posted in February 2012 because my friend Antonio alerted me to the fact that today is ‘Tiramisu Day’. It seemed a good opportunity to revisit this wonderful dessert. Six years on, I still make it in exactly the same way – from an Antonio Carluccio recipe. Controversy over the recipe’s origins and ingredients is as fierce as ever – see this article in Italy’s Repubblica paper: http://www.repubblica.it/sapori/2018/03/21/news/tiramisu_day_2018_friuli_e_veneto_sfida_ricette_il_cucchiaino_della_pace-191750211/

Travel Gourmet

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I know I leave myself open to accusations of hubris in claiming this recipe as a ‘classic’ Tiramisu. But writing about my own favourite recipe on the blog is as much a reaction against the many bad – even terrible – Tiramisus found in restaurants as wanting to share one I consider both authentic and absolutely wonderful.

I used to be an enthusiastic dessert cook and when anyone came for a meal I would often make two or more puddings. Nowadays my  tastes have changed and I avoid anything very sweet or moulded with vast quantities of whipped cream; if I  make a pudding it’s most likely to be a fruit tart or crumble on a Sunday evening if family come, or the infamous family celebration ‘cake’ – Torta Caprese for other guests, usually with a fresh fruit salad made with blueberries and raspberries on the side. I even rarely eat…

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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

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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 popular 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 these are prices found at places like Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, etc. – not where ‘normal’ people shop and mostly catering to tourists.

   

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.

   

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