A Weekend in London

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I spent a few days in London recently, ostensibly the purpose of the trip was to work with my editor to finalise the revised edition of the Ballymaloe Cookery Course which hopefully should be in the shops by Christmas.

I so love London, its easy to get to, bouncing with energy, great exhibitions, shows and theatres. I love the parks, the secret town gardens, (I went to see the hidden town gardens behind Spenser House this time) and of course the food.
I always want to try the new ‘best thing’, but also want to pack in old favourites.
The deal this time was that we had to break for lunch and I even managed to nip out for breakfast on a couple of occasions and I tagged a weekend on as well for good measure.
Baker and Spice is one of my favourite breakfast spots, delicious crunchy granola, thick unctuous yoghurt, real handmade breads, brioche, croissants and Danish pastries, good butter in a slab, gorgeous jams and marmalades.
The same can be said for La Fromagerie, Patricia Michelson’s iconic cheese shop and grocery. You sit at a communal table and feast on whatever the kitchen has been moved to cook that day, depending on the season and availability.
Breakfast too is a feast. The damson jam and marmalade were sublime as was my neighbour’s freshly boiled egg and soldiers. The walk-in cheese room, cooled and humidified, has arguably the best selection of cheese in best condition in London.
Next door is the Ginger Pig where those who seek out superb quality meat reared responsibly do their shopping. The meat is dry aged, dark and properly hung, lots of rare breeds. It gives me great joy to see prime roasts of beef sitting on the counter at room temperature with a tag to tell you how long it has hung for, 2,3,4,5 weeks and you pay accordingly. There’s no point in whingeing that we can’t get well hung meat. It costs the butcher more to hang the meat for longer. We need to be prepared to pay more for better quality and traditional butchering and local meat reared and nurtured by local farmers. Those who rear animals for real flavour need to be appreciated and rewarded for their efforts. There must be a difference in return, otherwise why bother.
Londoners queue up at the Ginger Pig in Moxon Street and at Borough Market and pay up to three times our normal prices for prime meat, not just beef and lamb but prime pork from traditional breeds and proper dry cured bacon like it used to be, not luminous pink from nitrates but dark, firm and dry.
The quest for real food in London is gathering momentum. There are now at least fifteen Farmers Markets in the London area. By 10 o’clock on Saturday morning the afore-mentioned Borough Market is like Patrick Street on Christmas Eve. The choice is unbearable and one needs to plan one’s campaign with military precision to make the best use of time. Pop into Brindisa first to order a ration of pata negra, the exquisite cured ham made from the acorn fed Iberico pigs from the oak forests of Andalucia. It will knock you back £16.50 for 100grams, its all hand cut so you’ll need to come back in 20 or 30 minutes to collect your precious packet. Meanwhile pick up some pimentons de Padron, some smoked paprika, a piece of fig and almond wheel and some fine sherry vinegar. If you want to enjoy a famous Brindisa Chorizo and Rocket sandwich you ‘ll need to be fast, there’s normally a queue by 9am which will last virtually all day.
Brindisa Tapa Bar on Southwark St. serves both breakfast and lunch on Friday and Saturday from 8am. 
Just across the road is Neal’s Yard Dairy, Randolf Hodgson’s Emporium of British and Irish cheese and several delicious homemade butters, good milk and thick unctuous yoghurt. 
For those who fancy a little sweet nothing, Konditor & Cook do a range of yummy cookies, bikkies and tiny cakes decorated with rude or romantic messages. Shoppers are prepared to queue for half an hour for the Monmouth Coffee Shop which sources its beans directly from farmers where quality is a priority and workers are paid a living wage also. There are several other terrific little cafes on the periphery of the market and don’t miss Roast-to-go, where they sell ‘pigs in blankets’ and other yummy snacks.
Jane Scotter has the best biodynamic veg in the market, you can pick up some elephant garlic from the Isle of Wight garlic stall, another stall simply sells a variety of sea salt and peppercorns from, yet another specializes in teas. Flour Power City has its bread from around the world and famous chocolate brownies piled high. There’s fish, shellfish, cured meats, pates and terrines and rare breed meats, including Andrew Sharpe’s Herdwick and Swaledale lamb and mutton from the Cumbrian hills in the Lake District, another has goose, duck and traditional breed eggs- it’s a foodlovers delight. If you can’t make Borough on Saturday, Marleybone High Street market on Sunday morning is smaller but the quality is superb.
I also had a delicious lunch in Olivo in Elizabeth Street, freshly made pasta with grated bottago (dried mullet roe), and pizza with Mozzarella, bresaola and rocket. Otto Lenghi on Upper St in Islington was another find, a deliciously stylish food shop with a café behind, unbearingly tempting salads, gorgeous sweeties, huge fluffy meringues, coffee hazelnut, raspberry and rose petal and chocolate. Cup Cakes with a fresh cherry on top, fig and blackberry galette…
In a weekend of many highlights the experience that topped them all was lunch at Petersham Nurseries Café. The salad of green and white asparagus with sarais, ricotta, anchovy and mint dressing was delicious, but most memorable was the Guinea Fowl with
Farro and Rosemary Aoili and the slow cooked Milk fed Lamb with borlotti beans and lovage salsa verde. I’ve managed to persuade Skye Gyngell to come to teach a one-day Guest chef course at the school on Saturday 8th September 2007, her food is truly sublime and truly, truly delicious. I can’t wait! – here are a few more of Skye’s recipes from her book ‘A Year in my kitchen’ published by Quadrille.

Mackerel Fillets with roasted tomatoes and horseradish cream

– Skye Gyngell
Horseradish works well alongside oily fish. You really need to grate it freshly, though this may bring tears to your eyes! Mackerel needs to be exceptionally fresh to be delicious. Ask your fishmonger to fillet the fish for you – if the fillets are quite large, allow two per person, if small then you will need to allow three. Mackerel also tastes best when it is very hot, so don’t let it sit around before serving.
Serves 4

4-5 mackerel, filleted
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
12 slow-roasted tomato halves

Horseradish cream:
200ml crème fraiche
1 tbsp. freshly grated horseradish
1½ tsp Dijon mustard

To serve
1 tbsp very finely chopped curly parsley
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle


Start by making the horseradish cream. Put the crème fraiche in a bowl and stir in the freshly grated horseradish and mustard. Season with a pinch of salt and a tiny amount of freshly ground pepper. (If making ahead, cover and refrigerate, but bring back to room temperature before serving.)
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6. Season the mackerel on both sides, but a little more generously on the skin side. Heat one large (or 2 smaller) non-stick ovenproof frying pans over a medium heat, then add the olive oil. When the pan is hot and lightly smoking, add the mackerel fillets, skin side down, and cook without turning or moving until the skin is golden and crunchy. Put the pan into the hot oven and cook for just under a minute, then remove.
To serve, layer the roasted tomato halves and mackerel fillets on warm serving plates, placing a dollop of horseradish cream on the bottom and top fillets. Sprinkle over the chopped parsley, drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil around the plate and serve immediately.

Slow-roasted Tomatoes
6 plum tomatoes
10g caster sugar
10g sea salt
10g freshly ground black pepper
Turn your oven on to its lowest possible setting – probably 100C/gas ¼. Halve the tomatoes lengthways and lay them, cut side up, in a single layer on a large baking tray. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, salt and pepper, then sprinkle all over the cut surface of the tomatoes. Roast, undisturbed, in the oven for 3-4 hours until they shrivel up – their pointy ends turning up like Turkish slippers. Remove and set aside until ready to use. Slow-roasting itensifies the flavour, giving the tomatoes a deliciously sweet, earthy taste.

Pan-roasted guinea fowl with parsley sauce – Skye Gyngell
Serves 6

6 guinea fowl supremes 
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little light olive oil, for cooking

Parsley sauce
150g curly parsley, stems removed, plus extra to serve
500ml double cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
1½ tsp finely grated lemon zest, or to taste

First make the parsley sauce. Put a pan of well salted water on to boil (it should be as salty as the sea). Plunge the parsley leaves into the boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and refresh in iced water (to keep your parsley a beautiful, bright colour). Drain and set aside.
Pour the cream into a heavy-based pan and bring almost to the boil. Turn down the heat and allow to bubble to reduce by about a third, until it has thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Add the blanched parsley leaves and boil for a moment longer. Remove from the heat and puree in a blender until you have a beautiful fine texture.
Add a generous grating of nutmeg and the lemon zest, then season well with salt and a good grinding of pepper. Your sauce is now ready; keep it warm.

Preheat the oven to 220/Gas 7. Season the guinea fowl generously with salt and pepper all over. Place a heavy-based frying pan over a medium-high heat and heat until smoking. Pour in about 1 tbsp olive oil, then brown the guinea fowl in batches. Lay two supremes in the pan, skin side down, and leave to colour for 3 minutes – resist the temptation to play with them. Transfer to a baking tray (without turning) and brown the rest of the supremes in the same way.
Finish cooking the guinea fowl in the oven for 8 minutes or until the skin is crisp and crunchy and the breast meat is succulent, moist and cooked through. Leave to rest in a warm place for 5 minutes.
Arrange the guinea fowl supremes on warm plates, on a bed of swede puree if you like, and ladle the warm parsley sauce generously over the top. Scatter over chopped parsley and serve.

Strawberry Granita

- Skye Gyngell
Serves 6


125g caster sugar
250ml water 
375g Irish strawberries
Juice of ½ lemon
Pouring cream, to serve (optional)


To make the sugar syrup, put the sugar and water into a saucepan over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside until the sugar syrup has cooled.
Hull the strawberries and puree in a blender or food processor with the lemon juice. Pass through a sieve into a bowl. When the sugar syrup is completely cool, combine with the strawberry puree.
Pour the mixture into a shallow freezerproof container and place in the freezer for about 2 hours until partially frozen.
Remove from the freezer and stir up the mixture with a fork, dragging in the frozen granita from the sides. Don’t beat it as you would a sorbet – the texture of the granita is not the same, it is meant to be icy and crunchy. Return to the freezer until set.
To serve, scoop the granita into glasses. If you are feeling really decadent, you could add a drizzle of cream.

Pizza with Mozzarella, Bresaola and Rocket


Brush the pizza base with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Sprinkle with mozzarella, season with cracked pepper and salt.
Slide into the oven. Cook for 1½ - 8 minutes, depending on oven. Lay 5 pieces of Bresaola on top.
Put a medium bunch of fresh rocket in the middle and drizzle with olive oil.


Foolproof Food

Doune McKenzie’s Cheese Biscuits

A brilliant recipe for using up left over bits of cheese, add a little blue cheese if available.
Any bits of left over cheese eg. Cheddar, Parmesan, Gruyere, Coolea, Cashel Blue … a little soft cheese may also be added but you will need some hard cheese to balance the flavour.
Weigh cheese then use equal amounts of butter and plain white flour.
Grate the cheese - rinds and all. Dice the butter. Cream the butter and stir in the flour and grated cheese and a little salt, form into a roll like a long sausage, about 1½ inches thick. Alternatively whizz in a food processor until it forms a dough, shape using a little flour if necessary. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 -2 hours until solid. 
Remove, unwrap, brush with egg wash and roll in sesame seeds, or a mixture of sesame and nigella seeds. Cover and chill again for another hour.
Slice into rounds - about one-third inch thick. Arrange on a baking tray, cook in a preheated oven 250ºC/475ºF/regulo 9 for approximately 5 minutes until golden brown. 
Leave to cool for a couple of seconds then transfer to a wire rack. Best eaten on the day they are made as they soften quite quickly.
Serve them just as they are, or use them as a base for a variety of toppings – perhaps a sliver of cheddar and a dollop of Ballymaloe Country Relish or Ballymaloe Jalapeno Relish. Goats cheese and sundried tomatoes are also delicious, or simply top the goats cheese with a dab of pesto and a slice of cherry tomato. They are also yummy sandwiched together with cream cheese, chives and cucumber pickle.

Hot Tips

When in London don’t miss -

La Fromagerie – 2-4 Moxon St. London WIU 4EW Tel 020 7935 0341
Ginger Pig, 8-10 Moxon St. London W1U 4EW, Tel 020 7935 7788
Baker and Spice – 54-56 Elizabeth St. SW1W 9PB, Tel 020 7730 3033
Tapas Brindisa, 18-20 Southwark St. SE1 1DJ, Tel 0871 4263056
Ottolenghi – 1 Holland St. Kensington, W8 4NA Tel 020 7937 0003(also in Notting Hill and Islington)
Olivo – 21 Eccleston St. SW1W 9LX Tel 0871 0753940
Petersham Nurseries Café – Richmond, Surrey. Tel 020 8605 3627

Covent Garden – there are lots of wonderful tempting little shops tucked away in the streets around Covent Garden – at 28-32 Shelton Street, WC2H 9JE – Cath Kidston’s beautiful vintage inspired floral tableware and home accessories – oil cloth, fabric by the metre for curtains and tablecloths, clothing, aprons, picnic sets…..
www.cathkidston.co.uk  Tel 020 7836 4803 
Next door at 32 Shelton Street is the Pout Shop with their delicious award-winning cosmetics – much loved by celebrities - great gifts beautifully packaged. www.pout.co.uk  Tel 020 7379 0379
Neals Yard Remedies is also nearby at 15 Neal’s Yard with their range of organic skin care and natural remedies www.nealsyardremedies.com  Tel 020 73797222

Delicious Gourmet Food Store now open on Well Road, Douglas, Cork – www.delicious.ie . Free parking to rear of store. 
Prepared meals, starters and desserts, breads, cakes, jams, cheeses……specializing in gluten Free and wheat free products – Tel 021-4936846

Growing Awareness Events
The aim of Growing Awareness is to ensure that everyone has access to food grown and produced in a way that restores respect for the earth, respect for food and respect for farmers and growers – check out their forthcoming events on www.growingawareness.org

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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