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Black Squid Ink Pasta with Salmon & Slow-roasted Tomatoes

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I love salmon and try to eat it once a week, not only because I like it but because it’s full of healthy fatty acids so is good for me. I always buying organic as the poor salmon has been much abused by the fish farming industry in recent years and most specimens are chemically-infested, bland-tasting fish, which I prefer to avoid. Of course there’s nothing like wild salmon for taste but that’s available for only a few months of the year – and at a price, but a wonderful treat. So I settle for organically farmed salmon most of the time.

I don’t usually do anything fancy with it, just simply grilling or roasting it and serving with nice vegetables. I always put it into a fish pie with some white fish and prawns and it makes excellent fishcakes. However, this evening I decided to be a little more creative; not massively creative and something very simple, but still a little bit more of a treat. Well, it is Sunday!

I had the last of a packet of black squid ink pasta in my cupboard and thought I’d use that with the salmon.

Eating seppia pasta always make me think of Venice, where I first remember eating it, at the wonderful Corte Sconta restaurant (although sadly the last time I went the lovely Rita had gone and it wasn’t quite so wonderful). The first time, with my daughter was magical, and we went back often for a while, whenever in Venice. I wanted to keep my dish simple so decided to add roasted salmon, which I’d break into large-ish pieces, slow-roasted tomatoes, some mint basil from my garden, and lots of olive oil and black pepper.

   

   

First of all I cooked the tomatoes. I’ve been buying some gorgeous cherry tomatoes on the vine from Sainsbury’s which are full of flavour. I knew the slow-roasting would bring out the flavour more, so I cut them in half (enough for one portion), covered them in a little olive oil and sprinkling of sea salt, and put them in a slow 150C/130 Fan/Gas 2 for an hour. This brings out the depth of flavour – the smell from my kitchen was fantastic! – but doesn’t dry them out.

   

Near the time I wanted to eat, I covered a portion of salmon in a little olive oil, seasoned and then roasted in the oven at 220C/200 Fan/Gas 7 for 12 minutes. I like it to be still pink and slightly underdone inside, which is also perfect for this kind of recipe where it will get a little more cooking when added to the pasta. With a fork, I broke the salmon into large-ish pieces ready to add to the pasta.

While the salmon was in the oven, I cooked the pasta. Mine needed 10 minutes (check the instructions on your packet) so I timed it to be ready at the same time as the salmon. When everything was ready, I drained the pasta, put it back in the saucepan and added the salmon, the tomatoes with all their gorgeous juices, some whole leaves of mint basil, a good glug of olive oil and plenty of black pepper.

   

I stirred over a medium heat for a couple of minutes to bring everything together and make sure it was nicely warm, then I transferred to a bowl. I served it with a simple green salad. Don’t be tempted to add Parmesan! The Italians don’t add Parmesan to fish pasta and it really doesn’t need it; it would spoil the taste.

It was very delicious; incredibly simple but wonderfully special in flavour. The mint basil, which I’ve just bought, it quite strong so check you like it if you have some, but otherwise some ordinary basil would do just as well, or even some chopped fresh parsley. I just felt it needed a touch of freshness from a fresh herb to make it really sing. I was very pleased with my supper and if you try it, I hope you enjoy it too!

 

La Gelatiera, Covent Garden

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I’ve walked past La Gelatiera so many times. But always the wrong time of day. Usually early evening when I’m wandering around the area before meeting a friend for supper in Covent Garden. Therefore not the right time to eat ice cream. I’ve read about its award-winning gelato though; it’s always listed as one of the top gelaterias in London (and in London we have some pretty fabulous ice cream parlours these days!), so it’s definitely been on my list of places to go.

I was meeting my lovely friend Lucia for a drink before going to the theatre. We were going to see Patrick Marber’s Don Juan in Soho starring David Tennant and the also wonderful Adrian Scarborough (and it was as brilliant as I’d anticipated). Lucia and her husband David go to the theatre a lot and for the last year or two Lucia has taken to sending me a list of what they’ve booked for the next 2-3 months and if there’s anything I fancy too, I book my own ticket. It’s been a wonderful way of broadening my London theatre experience and has taken me out of my long-standing comfort zone of booking tickets regularly at the National Theatre, but not going to other theatres much.

Summer made a sudden and welcome appearance in London a couple of days ago. Winter clothes have been cast aside, summer clothes donned, suncream lathered across faces and, it has to be said, we Londoners go slightly crazy whenever there’s a hint of the Mediterranean here. Lucia, being Italian, thought we couldn’t possibly sit in the basement café at the National Portrait Gallery as originally planned. With the sun here, we had to be outside and eat gelato! She suggested La Gelatiera as it was close to the theatre and had, she told me, excellent ice cream.

I arrived first and watched the queue grow so decided to join it as we had limited time before the play. The American couple behind me asked if it was good. I said I hadn’t been before but had heard lots of good things about it. They’d noticed there was a group of Italians queuing behind them and thought that was a good sign. When it comes to gelato, Italians really do know what’s best. Lucia soon arrived and gradually the queue moved into the tiny café.

I spied a fabulous-looking coffee machine on the counter.

Victoria Arduino have been making coffee machines since 1905, originally in Turin. We didn’t want coffee – but I must go back! Soon, as the queue moved forward, we could see the gelati and start to decide what we would choose.

The gelato is made daily with seasonal organic ingredients and the flavours on offer change regularly. There were some very interesting ones: Dark Chocolate & Chilli, Basil & Chilli, Macha Green Tea, Sicilian Pistachio, Sea Salted Caramel, Eton Mess and more usual flavours like Raspberry, Fruits of the Forest, Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate. There’s a good choice but not an enormous choice. And this is a good thing, I think; a sign of the freshness of any flavour you choose and that they really do make the ice creams daily.

We both had medium cups (£4.50) with 3 flavours. I had Dark Chocolate, Fruits of the Forest and a gorgeous unusual one of Honey, Rosemary & Orange Zest, which was wonderful. I loved the hint of rosemary with the sweetness of the honey and bright freshness of the orange zest.

It was all wonderful. The chocolate was like thick melted dark chocolate with a gorgeous creamy consistency; the forest fruits deep in flavour. No wonder La Gelatiera has won so much praise.

Lucia had the same honey and rosemary gelato with Pistachio and Mango Sorbet. They were really generous portions. Our Italian supper! I’ll to have to change my timing sometimes when heading to Covent Garden. I have to go back to La Gelatiera and try more flavours … and as they constantly change the flavours, I’ll have to just keep going and going!

La Gelatiera Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017

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Gardening enthusiasts have flocked to the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, close to the River Thames, since 1912 for the annual Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show in May. It is the most prestigious flower show in the world and the famous, privileged and not so famous, indeed the pretty ordinary, clamour and pay good money to join the crowds inside. Getting into it, even with a ticket – and if you haven’t bought a ticket months in advance don’t even bother to show up – is akin to arriving at Oxford Circus tube station at peak rush hour and trying to get near a train.

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I’ve been to Chelsea a number of times but not for a while, and have more recently gone to its sister show at Hampton Court Palace. Hampton Court is a more leisurely affair. There’s much more space and you can easily spent a relaxing day there, finding quiet corners to drink coffee, eat a picnic under the shade of a tree and chat, before moving on to another garden or plant stall. Chelsea is mayhem. Very civilised mayhem, with orderly queues and people waiting patiently to take their turn at the front of a crowd looking at a show garden, but still pretty chaotic. It’s not a day for relaxation. But it is most definitely a day for inspiration.

I’ve enjoyed my visits to Hampton Court but have never felt it comes near to the excitement and wonderful creativity of Chelsea. Chelsea is where you go to be inspired. If you want to find great ideas to transform your own garden, if you want to see bold, glorious show gardens, this is the place to be. I remember my first visit when my kids were still quite young and my son keen on kicking a ball around our small London garden. I started cutting into the lawn and planting more things. I was itching to do more with my garden. My son had to settle for being taken down the road to the park with his ball and he did complain about it. But now a grown-up married dad with a growing love for gardening, perhaps he’s beginning to understand. At the beginning of the year I offered to get tickets to Chelsea so we could go together and share garden ideas. But as it turned out, sadly he was unwell at the last-minute so I ended going on my own, with promises to buy tickets again next year.

The flower show runs from Monday until Saturday. Monday is VIP day when it’s full of royalty and the famous. All the royals turn up, including the Queen and Prince Philip, plus an array of actors, movie stars, rock and pop stars, TV celebrities, and business giants of the world. The next two days are for people with membership to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and the final days any member of the public can buy a ticket to attend.

I went to look at the show gardens first. This one based on an abandoned Maltese limestone quarry won a gold medal and ‘best in show’.

I have to confess it didn’t really appeal to me but I loved the next garden I looked at, Breaking Ground, which also deservedly won a gold medal. Judges give out medals on the 2nd morning and it’s a really big thing for all the garden designers. To win a gold medal is a huge honour.

   

This one was inspired by the Yorkshire coast. I felt it was barely a garden, but quite nice to look at.

I liked this next one – Beneath the Mexican Sky – one of the smaller gardens but a nice use of colour and although it’s Mexican, it reminded me of being in Marrakesh.

Here are photos are some other gardens and things I saw as I walked round:

   

  

   

  

And in the Grand Pavilion these lovely flowers:

   

   

   

I had a lovely afternoon, even by chance bumping into a friend who I sat down with and talked to for a few minutes. I really don’t have the stamina to do a whole day though. Plenty of people do but I find it too overwhelming and quite tiring making one’s way through dense crowds. However, I do love going; I love the excitement that fills the air and always feel inspired by something I’ve seen. I have to say I didn’t think it was the best Chelsea I’ve been to. There were fewer show gardens this year than normal and I didn’t think quite so much in the Grand Pavilion. But it’s always good to go and hopefully I’ll be back there next year with son as planned for some mutual gardening appreciation.

 

GPSmyCity Seasonal Giveaway

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I’ve got together with GPSmyCity again to offer a seasonal giveaway, which means you can upgrade two of my latest travel articles for free over the coming week (15-22 May). These are posts on my visits to Amsterdam and Turin this year, so if you’re planning to go to either of these wonderful cities soon, then why not follow the links below to download my guide and get your free upgrade.

GPSmyCity is a great app with guides to over 6,000 walks in 750+ cities around the world. You can download the app for free from the iTunes Store – click here for link. Now you don’t have to carry guidebooks and maps around with you – everything you need to find your way around a city and discover the best it has to offer, from hidden gems to places to eat, is on your phone. And the great thing about the GPSmyCity app is that you can read any guide for free when you have internet connection, but when you’re travelling round a particular city and want to get to know it better, for a small fee you can upgrade and read everything offline and don’t have to find WiFi or pay roaming charges. You’ll be given a detailed city map with GPS directions to take you round the city – no getting lost! – and to the all the sights mentioned. What better way to explore a city? Your phone becomes your own private tour guide and you can go at your own pace.

Here are the two articles on offer:

What to Eat and Where in Amsterdam

Dutch cuisine doesn’t have a particularly good reputation, but just as there has been a phenomenal change for the better in British cuisine in the last decade or two, I think the Dutch also deserve some recognition for the great food that can now be found there. Well, certainly in Amsterdam … to read more click here.

And here’s the link to post on the GPSmyCity app where you can upgrade for free until Monday 22 May:  Click here.

Turin: Historic Cafes, Chocolate & Aperitivo

If ever reasons were needed to explain why Travel Gourmet has fallen in love with the city of Turin (apart from it being in Italy, of course!), there are three excellent ones: it’s home to some of the most wonderful historic cafés you’ll find anywhere; it’s the home of chocolate (yes, even before Switzerland); and it is (arguably) the home of aperitivo … to read more click here.

To see the post on GPSmyCity and upgrade for free until 22 May, click here.

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Don’t miss your chance to take up this offer – download these articles on to your phone now for free! Offer runs 15-22 May only.

Mint and Lemon Chicken with Apricots & Potatoes

I’m loving reading the Honey & Co. Food From the Middle East cookbook and after making the gorgeous Cherry, Pistachio & Coconut Cake last week, I decided to try out a main dish today. This great chicken recipe is a simple all-in-one, which can be prepared ahead, so perfect for entertaining, and it immediately appealed to me because of all the wonderful middle eastern flavours that go into it.

The ‘Honey’ people use fresh apricots and say that if you can’t get them – which I couldn’t; it’s too early – then the dish is still good without them. But I thought I’d try adding some dried apricots. Dried fruits are used a lot in middle eastern dishes and I was sure it would work well. I jointed a whole chicken into four and froze two portions; the recipe also suggests you can use chicken thighs if you prefer. Chicken thighs have been popular lately as a tasty and cheap ingredient, but I have to confess I’m not a great fan. And I also wanted to make some chicken stock as I’d run out and needed the carcass. I freeze my stock as large ice cubes so it’s easy to take a few out when I need them. Other than the apricot change, I followed the recipe pretty much as it is in the book, but halved ingredients for just two portions.

Mint and Lemon Chicken with Apricots & Potatoes – Serves 2

  • 2 chicken breasts (or legs)
  • 4 medium potatoes (enough for 2 portions), peeled and cut into thin wedges
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and cut with the grain into 8 wedges
  • ½ head garlic, broken into separate cloves but not peeled
  • ½ lemon, cut into wedges
  • 8-10 dried apricots (or 4-6 fresh if you can get them, halved)
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Marinade

  • 1 teaspoon dried mint
  • ½ teaspoon sumac (available in most supermarkets)
  • ½ teaspoon chilli flakes
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (I didn’t half this – I wanted this much oil)

Mint Salsa

  • 1 preserved lemon
  • ½ small bunch fresh mint (about 10g), roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon sumac

First of all, joint the chicken if you’ve bought a whole one (click here for step-by-step instructions).

   

Mix all the marinade ingredients together and add the chicken pieces and coat thoroughly.

   

Cover and put in the fridge for at least an hour, but a few hours if you have time. When you’re almost ready to cook, prepare the vegetables. Put them in an ovenproof dish, drizzle over a little olive oil, sprinkle over a little sea salt and mix round to coat. Lay the marinated chicken pieces on top.

   

Put the dish into a preheated oven at 220C/200 Fan/Gas 7 for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully mix things round a bit so the vegetables cook and brown evenly. Return to the oven for another 15 minutes.

While the chicken is finishing cooking, prepare the salsa. The preserved lemon should be cut in half and pips and flesh removed and thrown away. Just use the skin and chop finely and put in a small bowl. Add the chopped fresh mint, olive oil and sumac. Mix well.

   

I found I needed to brown my potatoes a bit more (I probably should have cut them thinner!) so I removed the chicken portions and covered them in foil to keep warm while I cooked the potatoes for another 10 minutes. Then I was all ready to go.

I transferred half of the vegetables and fruit to a plate and lay the chicken portion on top. Then I spooned over half the salsa.

I served with a simple green salad on the side and a glass of Villa Maria’s wonderful Sauvignon Blanc.

It looked and smelled pretty impressive and it tasted wonderful. Such gorgeous flavours with the slightly salty preserved lemon; the sumac spice with its hint of lemon; the freshness of the mint; the sweetness of the apricots and red onions; the tender spiced chicken. And don’t forget the garlic. I often add unpeeled cloves to roasting potatoes and you end up with a glorious creamy soft garlic inside the skin, all ready to smooth over your potatoes – or in this case chicken and potatoes! I loved this dish and am sure to cook it again and look forward to fresh apricots arriving soon to try it with them.

Cherry, Pistachio & Coconut Cake

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After my wonderful meal at Honey & Smoke last week, I couldn’t resist buying the Honey & Co: Food From the Middle East cookbook. I hoped to find recipes for some of the dishes I enjoyed at the restaurant, particularly the selection of mezze we had at the start of the meal, and I’m happy to say many of the dishes are included. But something we didn’t eat was this Cherry, Pistachio & Coconut Cake and the photo took my eye the first time I looked through the book, so I decided to make it this weekend.

Now a cake is going to feed lots of people and as it turned out I saw a lot of Jonathan, Lyndsey and Freddie … but not all together. I had lunch at the lovely Corto Deli yesterday with Jonathan and Freddie; this morning I had breakfast in Paul in Richmond with Lyndsey and Freddie, but in our busy weekend we didn’t all come together for a meal. Still, I’d set my mind on baking the cake so I went ahead. I kept a couple of portions for myself and offered the rest to Jonathan as they were having friends to lunch today. And it happened to be the friends who Jonathan and Lyndsey went to Honey & Smoke with a few weeks ago, which led me to eat there. ‘I won’t write it up on the blog until I get everyone’s opinion,’ I told Jonathan. Thankfully, we all loved it – so here it is!

I pretty much followed Honey & Co’s recipe to the letter but with a couple of changes. They use 300g cherries (and suggest you could always use plums or raspberries as an alternative), but by the time I’d cut 200g cherries onto the cake batter, I felt I had enough. Also, they add a teaspoon of ‘ground mahleb‘. I had to look that one up; it’s a spice made from the seed kernel of cherries and apparently has a flavour similar to bitter almond. I didn’t know where to buy that so simply left it out. The cake was clearly going to still be good without it.

Cherry, Pistachio & Coconut Cake

  • 100g caster sugar, plus 20g for topping
  • 90g light soft brown sugar
  • 180g ground almonds
  • 30g ground pistachios
  • 45g desiccated coconut
  • 50g self-raising flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground mahleb (optional, see above)
  • 150g butter, melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 200-300g cherries (see above)
  • 50g roughly chopped pistachios for the topping

Preheat the oven to 190C/170C Fan/Gas 5.

Grease and line a 22cm diameter cake tin.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

   

Pour over the melted butter, add the eggs and mix well.

   

Transfer the cake batter to the prepared tin. Now cut the cherries in half and remove the stone. Put the cherries on top of the batter. The book suggests cutting them over the batter so you collect any juice on to the top. Chop the pistachios.

   

Sprinkle the chopped pistachios over the cherries and the 20g of reserved sugar (I only added 10g as I thought that enough and because I like to cut back on sugar when I can).

It looked pretty even before it was cooked! The book suggests cooking it for 25-30 minutes then turning the tin round for even browning and cooking for another 8-10 minutes. I’m not sure this is needed in my oven that browns fairly evenly anyway, but also I needed quite a bit more cooking time – 60 minutes in total. But do check earlier – your oven may be different! You want it nicely browned but check the centre has cooked too – mine remained soggy for a while. Once the cake is done leave to cool in the tin.

I cooked it late afternoon so it was just cool in time to have it as a dessert after supper and I added a spoonful of plain yoghurt on the side.

It was really delicious: quite sweet, especially with the coconut, and fairly dense but beautifully moist and reminiscent of middle eastern cakes in texture. I loved the combination of the different flavours in it and it makes a brilliant dessert cake. Which is what it turned out to be the following day at Jonathan’s … I’d kept another slice for myself which I ate with a cup of tea this afternoon, sitting in a warm corner of my garden which caught some rare sun (the weather in London has been awful of late!). I thought it tasted even better for being left for a day. They say in the book it will keep for a week (depending on how many mouths you have to feed in your home!) but keep it in the fridge, bringing it out to reach room temperature before serving.

It was very easy to make – almost an all-in-one recipe; the kind I like best! I’m sure to do it again and I rather think it will be on the family’s request list now.

I thoroughly recommend the book which is full of lots more wonderful recipes and is also a delight to look through with great photos.

 

 

Restaurant Review: Anima e Cuore

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It was my friend Lucia who suggested meeting at Anima e Cuore to eat one evening and she kindly offered to book, which apparently turned out to be quite a challenge. It’s only open from 6.00-10.00pm Tuesday to Saturday and it’s during these hours, or just before, that you might find someone answers the phone. The next challenge is actually getting a table. Anima e Cuore has been causing an excited gastronomic storm since it opened in 2014 and is always fully booked. Yet from its appearance outside in an insalubrious part of Kentish Town in north London, if you hadn’t heard what was going on inside in the kitchen, you’d very likely walk straight past it. Quickly!

Co-proprietors and chefs Mustapha Mouflih (born in Calabria) and Alessandro Altoni have impressive backgrounds and have worked in restaurants like The Ledbury, L’Anima, Le Gavroche and the Four Seasons Park Lane. But even knowing this, given the location of Anima e Cuore and the ordinariness of its tiny interior, which is more like an old-school English ‘caff’ than a restaurant, the food itself is still a glorious surprise.

The Italian name gives you a clue to the passion behind the restaurant: anima (soul) e (and) cuore (heart). If ever your surroundings didn’t count in a restaurant, this is the place. Anima e Cuore is all about the food; it’s about pasta made freshly to order; it’s about fresh seasonal ingredients; it’s about top quality ingredients; and it’s about astonishingly creative cooking.

There is no written menu as it changes regularly. It’s written out on a board and our waiter talked us through every single dish. This might seem excessive (given its length) yet the food is so complex and exciting, it was great to have a real feel for what was on offer.

There were so many dishes I wanted to try, which is a pleasing thing in a restaurant. Who hasn’t been to a new place that sounds great but then found hardly anything on the menu appeals? Not so at Anima e Cuore: we all thought we’d happily eat most of the menu! I went with what had instantly stood out to me and started with ‘Baccalà 4 ways’: baccalà (salt cod) prepared as a pannacotta, as ceviche within a fried polenta case, mantecato (creamed) and in black polenta.

As the dishes came out of the minuscule kitchen, which we could just see into from our table, and were put before us, we were pretty much in awe. Food looking this amazing seemed out of place in our surroundings. But who cared? We were there to eat and the food tasted as amazing as it looked. The little baccalà pannacotta lay on a crisp of black polenta – the inventiveness hadn’t stopped at the 4 baccalà interpretations, though each was a little miracle of taste in itself. We had all five of us chosen different starters. Lucia had chosen a ‘rosemary baba with Gorgonzola, walnuts and pear’.

Lucia’s husband David chose the classic Piemontese dish, Vitello Tonnato – thin slices of veal with a tuna sauce – as his starter.

Maria had ‘beef tartare, quail’s egg and Parmesan.

And Caroline had octopus with bottarga croquettes and a liquorice foam.

The main course selections were mainly pasta dishes on which they pride themselves. In a sense they were more ordinary after the amazing starters, but then excellent handmade, fresh pasta with a good sauce can’t really be classed as ‘ordinary’. My ‘fettuccine with a duck ragù’ was delicious.

David had a similar dish with pappardelle and a lamb ragù while Lucia went for the vegetarian option of ‘ravioli stuffed with asiago and ricotta cheeses and an aubergine sauce’.

Maria chose to follow her beef tartare starter with a simple and classic ‘spaghetti cacio e Pepe’ – spaghetti served with a simple cheese and pepper sauce – which she said was very good. Caroline chose the appealing sounding ‘ravioli osso buco’, which looked great and apparently tasted good but it turned out to be one of the few hiccups in the meal as it came lukewarm. She chose not to send it back, though mentioned it at the end.

Wine is BYO and carafes of water are brought to the table. We decided against desserts but a complimentary one came to share with our bill – a gorgeous warm sponge cake with fabulous ice cream on top. When they first opened it was as a café and gelateria in the daytime (though no longer) and they make their own ice cream, which is excellent with a wonderfully smooth, creamy texture.

It was a fabulous meal and almost perfect. But then things are rarely absolutely perfect. There was the hitch of Caroline’s lukewarm main and the mains came quite slowly. Our waiter apologised while we were waiting and said it was because lots of people had come in at the same time and everything is freshly prepared in the tiny kitchen, but maybe they need to spread bookings out a bit. But with food of this quality and price (the bill was £120 for the 5 of us – and we took our own wine), and with friendly service from a waiter who was clearly passionate about their food, things can be forgiven. And we certainly all felt we wanted to go back. There were so many other dishes we wanted to try! It was also, despite my initial misgivings about location, easy to get to – only a 6-minute walk from Camden Road station from which an Overground train took me directly to Richmond in 41 minutes.

Anima e Cuore Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A Weekend in Kent: Sandwich & Canterbury

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I’ve just spent the weekend in Kent with my aunt Arleen who, being only about 10 years older than me, is as much a friend as an aunt, and because she leads an active life doing lots of interesting things, I feel a need to explain to people that I’m not visiting some aged aunt in their 90s in case they imagine I’m sitting around doing little when actually we’re on the go much of the time, making the most of our weekend together. A weekend with Arleen is always a busy time doing lots of interesting and fun things and she goes to a lot of trouble to make it a lovely time for me, and so it feels like a little holiday.

I was brought up in Kent and spent a lot of time in the Canterbury area visiting my father’s family as a child and so many of the places are familiar, even if I haven’t visited them in many years. Last time I went to stay with Arleen we visited Whitstable and Margate, and this time she offered to take me to different places. Thus on Saturday afternoon we went to nearby Sandwich (photo at top), which I’m pretty sure I’ve never been to before, and on Sunday to Canterbury, which I definitely have been to before but not since my teens.

Sandwich is an historic town that was first registered in 851 as Sondwic. In the Domesday Book in 1086 it appears as Sandwic, which means ‘market town on sandy soil’. It was also one of the Cinque Ports, originally formed for trade and military purposes in medieval times. Of course the first thought has to be – is it connected to the snack ‘sandwich’? And indeed it is – or so it is said. It’s not certain but the story goes that the Earl of Sandwich in the 18th century invented the snack of two pieces of bread with a filling. I couldn’t help remembering though that when I was in Turin a few weeks ago, I visited a café which also claimed to have invented the sandwich – or tramezzini. So, who knows. Whatever Sandwich’s true connection to the popular snack, it is anyway a very pretty town with beautiful old buildings and narrow medieval streets.

As it was a bank holiday weekend, it turned out there was also a festival going on celebrating things of the 1940s. At the quay there was a boat from World War II and lots of old 1940s cars.

When we stopped for an afternoon coffee, the staff in the café were wearing 1940s clothes and had 1940s hair styles. It was all great fun and I really enjoyed seeing Sandwich, which is a very pretty town. On the way back, we stopped at the beach near Arleen’s home to give her dog Rosie a run. It was so nice to be by the sea for the weekend.

For our evening meal Arleen had booked a table at The Powell in Birchington, where she lives. A pub, it’s recently been done up with a separate restaurant. It was very attractive inside, the restaurant area similar to the pub area but feeling different enough for you to feel you’re in a restaurant rather a bar. The food was really good. We didn’t didn’t have starters but went straight into mains, both choosing a fish special of the day which was sea bass with vegetables stuffed Provençal style and a tomato confit sauce.

It was delicious and our glasses of wine were excellent too. We decided to share a dessert – a mango bavarois and mango sorbet. It was really good and, like the main course, beautifully presented.

The weather wasn’t so good on Sunday morning but Rosie needed a walk and it was agreed to take a longer circular route from Arleen’s house to the beach so that we didn’t need to take the car.

The tide was well out but I think it can look really lovely like that, especially early in the morning when there’s hardly anyone around – other than dog walkers! Rosie enjoyed the walk too – and Arleen offered to take a photo of me holding her.

We stopped for a morning coffee at the Minnis Bay bar & brasserie and sat outside, looking over the sea. Inside they had local beers – but it was definitely too early for alcohol!

We went back to Arleen’s for lunch, Rosie was delivered to neighbours who like looking after her, and then we set off to Canterbury. Canterbury, famous for its cathedral and archbishop (who is the primate of the Church of England), was a pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages, a history made famous by Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote The Canterbury Tales in the 14th century about a group of pilgrims making their way to the city. There is, unsurprisingly, a statue of him in the historic centre.

The city is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s been a settlement in the area since prehistoric times and the Romans captured the settlement in the 1st century, building a forum, temple, baths and even a theatre. Some of the Roman city walls survive, although were rebuilt in the 14th century; there are the ruins of St Augstine’s Abbey where Christianity was brought to England; and the oldest extant school in the world – The King’s School. It was lovely to walk round and see some of the old streets – though also quite busy on this bank holiday weekend.

   

   

I particularly wanted to go into the cathedral and luckily we got there just before it closed for entry at 2.00pm – early because there was to be a service at 3.15. It’s one of the oldest Christian buildings in England and was founded in 957, though was completely rebuilt between 1170-1177. At the moment there is a lot of scaffolding up on both the outside and inside, but even so, it’s the most beautiful, truly awesome building and I think, unlike some cathedrals which are big tourist attractions, it still retains a sense of spirituality.

   

There was some stunning, wonderful stained glass.

   

After our visit to the cathedral we headed to an old tearooms – Tiny Tim’s Tearoom – for tea, scones and clotted cream.

We shared a ‘cream tea’ as a tea for one came with two scones and we thought we only wanted one each, and just ordered an extra tea. It was as well we shared – the scones were enormous! Too big really. Very tasty but crustier than I prefer (I think scones should be quite soft and light) and we had to ask for extra cream as we were given quite a small amount.

Back at Arleen’s home, she’d prepared us a delicious fish pie for Sunday’s supper. This morning I had a last walk along the beach with her before heading home.

Arleen came as far as her son Jason’s who has a farm near Canterbury so I could stop off and see my cousin and his family before heading home. It had been a lovely weekend of family and Kent delights.

Baby Squid Stuffed Sorrento Style

I’ve been enjoying looking through the wonderful The Silver Spoon: Naples and the Amalfi Coast book that my friends Jane and Terry gave me for my birthday just over a week ago.

Even if you don’t want to cook anything, it’s the most glorious book to look through and read. However, one of the recipes that first caught my eye and I did want to cook was ‘Totani alla Sorrentina’ – a recipe for stuffed squid. It was a fairly last-minute decision this afternoon to cook the dish tonight. I was out and about locally so popped into my local fishmongers and bought some baby squid. I said I was planning to stuff them and the fishmonger recommended I bought 3 for one portion (they only cost me £1.89).

I vaguely remembered the recipe, having looked at it earlier in the day, so bought some mozzarella and tomatoes too. The recipe calls for San Marzano tomatoes, those extraordinarily tasty and special tomatoes from Naples. They’re often referred to as ‘Mount Vesuvius’ tomatoes as they grow on the fertile, volcanic soil around the Vesuvius. It’s said – by Italians – that the only true Margherita Pizza is one made with San Marzano tomatoes. Well the chance of getting the genuine tomato in Twickenham was nil, so I settled for some organic little cherry tomatoes I’ve bought in M&S Simply Food a few times and know to be particularly tasty.

Back home I started to get things together and was rather surprised to see that the cooking time was 1 hour. I always think of cooking squid quickly. Now, what I hadn’t taken into account in my enthusiasm to buy baby squid and stuff them was that the recipe really calls for bigger grown-up squid. Still I was not deterred. I made the stuffing and, with a good deal of difficulty it has to be said, somehow managed to stuff the squid through a small opening at the top.

Because I was using very small tomatoes, I decided there was no way I was going to skin and seed them, as the recipe instructs. I often make fresh tomato sauce for pasta without peeling the tomatoes. I got the whole dish together and left it gently simmering. Pretty soon I saw that the filling was starting to seep out. At this time I was exchanging emails with my friend Annie (organising our next restaurant excursion). I told her about the squid. She said it sounded complicated and I replied, not really, but the stuffing was leaking out; if it was all a disaster, then she wouldn’t see it on the blog! So … what is a disaster? I have had disasters that I haven’t written up but it turned out that the squid, while they looked a disaster – if you compared them to the appealing photo in the book …

– tasted absolutely wonderful. I therefore decided to tell you all about it; give you the recipe. I would recommend that you use it for a full-size squid though, not baby ones (the recipe below would be right for one squid). And it also goes to show that this food blogger doesn’t always cook perfect food. It’s a shame when people feel intimidated about cooking for me now I write the blog because while I think I’m a pretty good home cook, I’m not a professional, and a lot of the time I’m cooking straightforward, simple food – and I do have the odd disaster! I just don’t usually blog it. But the taste of this ‘disaster’ was so good it’s worth sharing … and it did remind me of the brilliant and famous chef, Massimo Bottura’s signature dessert – Oops, I dropped the Lemon Tart … broken but still fabulous (click here for my meal at his restaurant, including the famous tart). Not that I’m claiming my dish tonight was in that league, just that visual disasters can sometimes taste very good!

Baby Squid Stuffed Sorrento Style

I had to adjust the recipe to accommodate cooking for one rather than six; some ingredients are halved and others a third, so use your judgement if you multiply – or buy the book! It’s worth having.

  • 3 baby squid
  • 4 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
  • 3 bocconcini (baby mozzarella – or 75g), chopped
  • 5g grated Parmesan
  • pinch of chilli flakes
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • salt and pepper
  • 200g cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled

Put the breadcrumbs, chopped mozzarella, Parmesan, chilli flakes, salt and pepper in a bowl. Add the beaten egg and mix well together.

  

Now stuff the squid, pushing in and then finishing with folding the tentacles into the top (supposedly to hold the stuffing in!).

I prepared these a little in advance, covered with cling film and put in the fridge while I prepared the tomato sauce. Halve the cherry tomatoes and chop the parsley. Put the olive oil in the pan with the garlic and gently cook until the garlic starts to brown, then remove it. This way you’ll get the flavour of the garlic without having to eat it – and possibly make yourself unpopular with non-garlic eaters if you do!

  

Now add the tomatoes and parsley with a seasoning of salt. Cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to break down and soften.

  

Add the squid.

Turn down to a gentle simmer and put a lid on the pan. Leave to cook for about 40 minutes (if they’re baby squid; an hour for a big squid), turning carefully occasionally.

So far, all good and I was pleased with how it was going. Doesn’t it look great? Lesson to the cook: don’t get smug; don’t count your chickens, etc.

Now, I wouldn’t like to promote the idea that alcoholic relieves stress … but … maybe it’s as well that I decided – sticking with the Italian theme – to open a little bottle (one of those individual sizes) of prosecco at that point.

As I sipped my fizz, I saw that the squid was shrinking as it cooked and the stuffing was coming out. Mmmm … well it did look a bit of a mess.

I planned to cook some black seppia pasta to go with it …

I decided the only thing I could do was to remove the cooked squid and slice in two or three and mix some of the sauce with the cooked pasta. It wasn’t going to look quite how I’d imagined.

Well, not if you compare it with the one in the book. But it sure did taste wonderful; delicious. I loved it. I really must try it again with a full-size squid and make sure I secure the top opening as best I can. But meanwhile, beautifully presented food is a wonderful thing but in the end, it’s the taste that counts.

 

 

Restaurant Review: Honey & Smoke

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I’ve been reading and hearing good things about Honey & Co for some time; then of the opening of their larger grill room a few months ago in Great Portland Street. There are so many good restaurants in London these days that even a food blogger, whose thoughts fall deeply into food related things much of time, can’t manage to get to more than a handful. However, my interest in Honey & Smoke grew after my son, wife and friends ate there recently. As I was babysitting my grandson and watching Netflix while they were indulging gastronomically, I got their first-hand, newly formed reaction when they arrived home. And they thought it was great. Regular readers of this blog will know that my two great cuisine loves are the food of Italy and Middle Eastern food. So really, if my son thought Honey & Smoke was great – I was bound to love it. And I did.

I suggested to my good friend Annie that when we next met we went to Honey & Smoke. She’d been once before, quite recently, on a busy Saturday night, and had found it rather noisy in their basement area, but thought the food was great and was keen to go again, especially at an earlier time mid week. As it’s so popular I booked well in advance but still had to take quite an early sitting of 6.15 and was told – virtually standard now in popular London restaurants – that they’d need the table back 2 hours later at 8.15.

Inside, the restaurant has a very simple, minimalistic style and the kitchen at the back is on view (photo above from our table on the ground floor). The decor may be minimal but the welcome and service was warm and friendly, and happily, efficient too. The menu is interesting for, apart from 3 small plates, there aren’t starters. There are though 10 grills to choose from and Annie said these were different from the time she’d been before so they obviously change the menu quite often. If there were few starters there was a wonderful Spring Set Menu offering a selection of 9 mezze, a choice of any grill and then any dessert from the menu for £34.50. I’m sure you can guess where we went with our choices! Annie had had this the previous time and so had my son and friends, so frankly, I wasn’t going to miss out. Here’s what we had:

(1) Baba ganoush with seeded lavoush (2) Cauliflower florets with homemade amba & tahini.

  

(3) Moroccan sourdough (4) Greek olive oil, Kalamata olives, pickles

  

(5) Tomatoes & pomegranate tabule (6) Charred marinated courgettes & smoked labneh

  

(7) Sweet potatoes in embers, almond tahini, date honey & spring onions (8) Falafel & tahini

  

There was also Hummus with tatbilla & tahini but somehow I managed to miss photographing that. But as you can see – there was a lot of food! I had been warned and Annie and I discussed that we’d actually be happy just having the mezze on their own as our meal. They were, each and every one, wonderful. The baba ganoush was nicely smoky, just as it should be and I loved the crisp bread with it; the spicy cauliflower was fabulous (if I was forced to choose favourites here, this would be one); the bread was good and the olives fantastic – I like olives but there are some bad ones on offer, but not these for they were excellent. The tabule with the tomatoes and pomegranate had a bright, fresh taste; the charred courgettes were exceptionally good and I loved the smoked labneh; I’d never had a smoked version before. Finally, the sweet potatoes were so fabulous it reminded me I hadn’t bought sweet potatoes for far too long; and the falafels had a good flavour and texture. The photo-lacking hummus was excellent too.

The menu of grills for our mains offered a wide choice of fish, meat and vegetable. Annie chose Beef shish with zaalouk, marinated aubergine & ramsons (wild garlic) leaves.

She said this was really good. I chose Lamb kofta in the style of Adana, Gigandes beans & goats’ yogurt.

I love lamb kofte and actually make them quite often but it was great to eat these with all the gorgeous flavours of the dish.

Now you’re probably wondering how on earth we ate all this. Indeed, Annie said that on her previous visit they took their dessert home, which was nicely packaged up for them. Somehow we managed to eat our dessert last night. I know it sounds greedy, but there you are, it was all too good to resist, and actually I felt nicely full at the end but not overfull. But you need to be sure to arrive hungry as we did!

For dessert I had Feta & honey cheese cake on a kadaif base – a signature cake from Honey & Co. The ‘kadaif’ is that shredded wheat looking base you find in middle eastern cakes. It was rich and delicious. Annie had an equally delicious but less indulgent dessert of Alphonso mango & lime sorbet.

  

Wine came by the 125ml glass or bottle so we had a glass of French Picpoul, a white from Languedoc (£6) to start and for red with our mains, a glass of Tempranillo from Spain (£7.50).

It was really a fabulous meal. I liked the laid-back, informal ambience of the restaurant; appreciated the friendly and helpful service. There were no hiccups, no disappointments; it was full of wonderful, perfectly cooked dishes and thus an absolute delight to experience. I now feel I want to visit the original Honey & Co sometime and so impressed was I by all the gorgeous flavours last night, I’ve ordered the Honey & Co: Food From the Middle East cookbook today.

Honey & Smoke Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato