London Calling Again


Every year I take the Ballymaloe Cookery School teachers on a skite toLondon to eat, drink and be very merry all in the way of research. We keep our eyes and ears open for new trends and tasty bites to incorporate into our repertoire and pass on to the students who come to the school.

On Friday afternoon I arrived a little earlier than some of the others and headed for Shoreditch, a really happening area in East Londonto check out the uber cool Rochelle Canteen, a quirky gem in the converted bike shed of a Victorian school. Just missed lunch, but picked up some tantalisingly delicious sounding menus. Like Brooklyn and Harlem inNew York, the Shoreditch/Whitechapel area is all about galvanize and graffiti, recycled building materials, distressed furniture, old china and dynamic street art, all impossibly chic. Just around the corner on Calvert Avenue, I found Leila’s  one of my favourite cafes and grocery shops with an achingly stylish semi open kitchen, a wooden plate rack, rusty galvanise counter, zinc topped tables, old French terracotta bowls and a blackboard. The menu is short and minimalist – toast and jam, fried eggs with sage leaves, puy lentil and courgette soup… I had a little feast – an eclectic mix, a terracotta bowl of Salmorejo with chopped hard boiled egg, strips of Serrano ham and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a bowl of fresh cherries, a gorgeous brownie on a board with a knife so I could cut it into a million little pieces and nibble it in guilty bites with a cup of Robert Wilson Ceylon tea. Sated, I then wandered into the beautiful grocery shop next door and bought some of the tea, a bag of squashed peaches and fantastic cheese. My next stop was Labor and Wait – a shop that is unquestionably my favourite retail experience, no it doesn’t sell clothes or sexy lingerie, it sells the sort of merchandise that you haven’t seen for years, Stanley Flasks, Guernsey Jumpers, vintage kitchen ware, Sussex trugs, enamel pie dishes, zinc dustpans, heavy drill aprons… and they ship…

It’s only a couple of minutes walk from The Albion, Terence Conran’s latest venture, a clever combination of hotel, café and food shop. All very ‘Conran’ but somehow very predictable in comparison to the cutting edge urban chic neighbours. Nonetheless the cafe is phenomenally popular especially for breakfast. On a fine day, visit the stylish rooftop bar and grill with views fromCanaryWharfto the Gherkin and Barbican in the distance. Railroad Cafe is another cute little café cum bookshop in Hackney. Here, Lizzie Parle and her partner Matt serve good tea, coffee, artisan beer and dinner three nights a week and hosts some great gigs downstairs at the weekend. They were writing the menu on a Perspex board and it sounded great but I was bound for Brawn on the corner ofColumbia Roadin Bethnal Green to meet the BCS team. We ordered just about everything on the menu – home made Brawn of course with tiny crunchy gherkins,  a dollop of pork rilettes with crusty bread, pork scratchings, plaice with marsh samphire, capers and brown butter, Cornish sardines with spiced aubergines and harissa, hand chopped Tuscan style beef, confit duck leg with barlotti beans and girolles………The menu is divided into Taste Ticklers, Pig , Plancha Cold, Slow Cook, Pudding and Cheese- don’t miss the wobbly Panna Cotta with cherries and the crepes with salted butter caramel. Great atmosphere, lots of sharing plates, very au courant.


Caramelized Chicory with Crozier Blue Cheese and Caramelised Walnuts


This is my version of one the Tapas we ate at José, they used Picos Blue Cheese.


Serves 6


6 heads of chicory (tightly closed with no trace of green)

2 pints (1.1L) water

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

good squeeze of lemon juice


4-6 ozs (110-175g) Crozier Blue crumbed

3 ½ oz (100g) fresh walnuts, halves

3ozs (75g) sugar

Pinch of salt

First cook the chicory.

Remove a thin slice from the root end of each chicory.  Remove the centre root with the tip of a sharp knife if you find it too bitter.  Bring the water to the boil, add salt, sugar and a good squeeze of lemon juice add the chicory and cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until almost or completely tender depending on how you intend to finish the cooking. Remove the chicory when it is tender and a knife tip will pierce the root end without resistance.  Drain well and then squeeze out all excess water (I do this in a clean T- towel).

When cool, cut each chicory into 4 lengthwise. Melt the butter in a sauté pan, cook the chicory in a single layer on a low heat until caramelized on all sides, turning when necessary. Meanwhile, caramelise the walnuts.

Sprinkle the sugar in an even layer on a heavy bottom pan over a medium heat. Spread the walnuts evenly over the sugar, cook over a low heat until the sugar first melts and then caramelises. Tilt the pan to coat the walnuts in caramel, careful not to get burnt. Turn out immediately onto a non stick silpat mat or an oiled baking tray. Separate the caramelised nuts immediately with two oiled forks and allow to get cold.


To serve

Arrange three pieces of chicory on a hot plate. Scatter some crumbled Crozier Blue cheese on top.

Pop under the grill for a minute or two, the cheese should be slightly melting, add a few coarsely chopped caramelised walnuts – serve immediately.


Salmorejo with Hard-Boiled Egg and Serrano


Serves 6


1 clove of garlic crushed

800g (1lb 7 ½ oz) ripe red tomatoes cut into quarters

50g (2oz) white bread, crust removed and cut into cubes

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 – 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, we use Forum

salt, pepper, and sugar


To Serve

2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped

75g (3oz) strips of Serrano ham cut into slivers

extra virgin olive oil

flat parsley


Shallow Terracotta Bowls


Place the garlic, tomatoes, bread, olive oil and 1 tablespoon of vinegar in to a food processor – season with salt, pepper and sugar. Whizz until well blended but still slightly coarse.

Taste, you may need to add more vinegar, depending on the sweetness of the tomatoes. Chill well. If the mixture is too thick add a little water but not too much. Serve in chilled shallow terracotta bowls with a couple of tablespoons of chopped hard boiled egg and slivers of Serrano ham in the centre of each.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Eat with lots of fresh crusty bread.



Baked Plaice or Lemon Sole with Samphire, Capers and Brown Butter


Plaice and lemon sole are at their best in Summer and early Autumn.  Make this recipe while Marsh Samphire is in season.


Serves 4


4 baby plaice in season

110g (4oz) Marsh samphire

75g (3oz) butter

1 – 1 1/2oz (25-35g) capers


Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5.


Turn the fish on its side and remove the head.  Wash the fish and clean the slit very thoroughly.  With a sharp knife, cut through the skin right round the fish, just where the ‘fringe’ meets the flesh.  Be careful to cut neatly and to cross the side cuts at the tail or it will be difficult to remove the skin later on.


Sprinkle the fish with salt and freshly-ground pepper and lay them in 1cm (1/2 inch) of water in a shallow baking tin.   Bake in a moderately hot oven for 20-30 minutes according to the size of the fish.  The water should have just evaporated as the fish is cooked.  Check to see whether the fish is cooked by lifting the flesh from the bone at the head; it should lift off the bone easily and be quite white with no trace of pink.


Meanwhile, wash the samphire under running water.  Cook the samphire in boiling water for 3-4 minutes, drain, keep warm.


When the plaice is cooked, transfer to individual hot plates.  Lift off the skin.  Put a few fronds of samphire on top of each fish.  Heat the butter in a saucepan on a high heat, when it foams and turns golden, add the drained capers, allow to sizzle for a minute or two.  Spoon the brown butter and crispy capers over the samphire and fish.  Serve immediately. 


Panna Cotta with Grappa and Cherries


Inspired by the Rose Gray’s recipe from the River Café.


Serves 8-10


1.2 litres (2 pints) double cream

2 vanilla pods

Thinly pared rind of 2 lemons

3 gelatine leaves

150 ml (5 fl oz) cold milk

150 g (5 oz) icing sugar

120 ml (4 fl oz) grappa, plus extra to serve

2 punnets of fresh cherries

8-10 moulds, 200 ml (7 fl oz) in size


Pour 900 ml (1½ pints) of the cream into a pan; add the vanilla pods and lemon rind bring to the boil, then simmer until reduced by one-third. Remove the cooked lemon rind and keep to one side. Remove the vanilla pods and scrape the softened insides into the cream.


Soak the gelatine in the milk for about 15 minutes or until soft. Remove the gelatine, heat the milk until boiling, then return the gelatine to the milk and stir until dissolved. Pour the milk and gelatine mixture into the hot cream through a sieve, stir, then leave to cool.


Lightly whip the remaining cream with the icing sugar, fold in the cooled, cooked cream, then add the grappa. Place a piece of cooked lemon rind in each of the moulds, pour in the cream mixture to two thirds full and allow to set in the fridge for at least 4 hours


Turn out on to dessert plates and serve with fresh cherries and a tablespoon of grappa poured over the top.




LondonFood Market Guide – Flynn Hall is the person to contact if you’d like a brilliant guided tour of the Bermondsey Market – highly recommended 00447772875474.


The CliffBarAcademyis Ireland’s only bespoke bartender school of its kind that offers courses to become a professional bartender in a short period of time. They can also tailor make courses for companies. Contact Richard Linden  +353 1 638 3939


Keep an eye out for damsons, sloes and crab-apples when you walk in the park or through country lanes, they are not ripe yet but will be in mid-September and then you can make Damson and Sloe Gin and Jams and jellies for your winter store cupboard.


A Taste of West Cork Food Festival takes place in Skibbereen, West Cork from Saturday 10th to Sunday 18th September. Some of the exciting highlights include… Island Hopping with starters and dinner on Heir and Sherkin Islands on the MV Mystic Water. Then back to Casey’s Baltimore for dessert and music. Very limited numbers so contact 086-3639856. Celtic Cook-off, where chefs from different parts of Britain and Ireland will cook-off against each other, in a time and tasting competition at the West Cork Hotel and “A Taste of West Cork” Local and Artisan Food Producer’s Awards where the West Cork people will get a chance to vote for their favourite foods, producers and marketing. For the full program visit


Taste Council – Food Summer School

The Taste Council in association with Bord Bia will host the first national symposium on the current and future contribution of the artisan and the speciality food producer to the Irish Economy.

The ‘Future is Food’ Summer School will bring together stakeholders from the agriculture and food industries in addition to key government departments and media to discuss the best ways to use the potential we are so lucky to have in Ireland.

This is on Tuesday 30th August, 2011 at The Brooklodge Hotel, Macreddin Village, Co. Wicklow .

To book accommodation at the Brook Lodge Hotel please call Orlaith Merrigan or Fiona Kavanagh at Reservations on 0402 36444 or by email at





About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters

  • Recipes