London, just a little hop from any of our airports in Ireland has been one of the hottest food destinations in the world for over a decade now.
There are many multi starred establishments but also lots of small and teeny weeny restaurants run by passionate young chefs and cooks who are creating links with farmers and food producers and turning out edgy modern British as well as multi ethnic food.
I get regular requests from readers for my â€˜London Listâ€™ so here are some of my current favourites.
Bao started in a little timber shack at Netil Market in Hackney from 12 Oâ€™ clock on Saturday mornings.Â They serve a Chinese steamed bun with pulled pork and the veggie bao, filled with a fried daikon cake not dissimilar from a hash brown. Â Chicken bits, crispybreaded morsels of juicy chicken with a hot sauce. An eager queue starts to form by 11.30; Bao are still in the market but have now moved into â€˜bricks and mortarâ€™. Like many cool London restaurants, they donâ€™t take bookings so once again thereâ€™s a queue across the road from the restaurant â€“ Bao is hot and deservedly so, the steamed buns are like fluffy tender pillows stuffed with the tastiest pork.
Raw Duck in Richmond Road is another of my favourites, lots of concrete and metal windows there, long wooden communal tables with random pots of herbs and flowers down along the middle, a tempting list of natural wines, drinking vinegars and shrubs.
The menu is made up of lots of little plates of carefully chosen combinations, I had brunch there recently and loved the coconut porridge with a blob of persimmon jam in the centre and chopped cashew nuts sprinkled on top. That was so good as was the avocado, poached eggs, bacon, coriander and chilli on sourdough toast. Lots of little plates of ferments and pickles, kefir, browniesâ€¦.
The Smoking Goat in Denmark Street, in the midst of the â€˜guitar districtâ€™ does barbequed wood ember food with strong Thai influences. I loved the scallop roasted in their shells over charcoal with chilli, coriander and lime and the barbeque smoked lamb ribs with nahm jiim jaew and the cornish mullet with pomelo salad. Rare breed meats and day boat fish from small production farmers and fishermen. Theyâ€™re not big on puds and they donâ€™t serve coffeeâ€¦.
Cooking over fire, a strong trend at present, Kitty Fishersâ€™ Wood Grill Â in Shepherd Market is also worth checking out . A widely travelled friend loved the escalop beef from an 11 year old Galician dairy cow, how about that for a rarity.
Lyles the tea building in High Street Shoreditch â€“ where itâ€™s all happening is a must for your London list, youâ€™ll definitely need to book ahead for dinner but itâ€™s slightly easier to get in for lunch, more clean and simple lines a semi open kitchen and a cool cocktail bar. James Lowe and John Ogner offer a beautiful selection of small plates; I particularly loved the smoked eel, beetroot and horseradish.
The beets were sweet and earthy still warm from the oven, the smoked eel also gently heated, horseradish cream cold and a seemingly simple combo made magical by superb ingredients and contrasting temperatures. Donâ€™t miss the pumpkin ice cream with whey caramel and meringue.
The Portland is my top tip for a Michelin starred experience. Itâ€™s pulling in lots of plaudits for simple accomplished food, great ingredients and superb service.
Finally if you havenâ€™t already had the Honey & Co experience â€“ you will make lots of new friends, now this is quite a squash. Everyone is super excited to have bagged a table in this darling little restaurant owned and run by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer where the Middle Eastern food is instantly appealing and the cakes and puddings are the stuff of dreams.
Finally Violet Cakes in East London is another of my favourites, a tiny cafÃ© and cake shop on Wilton Way, here are some recipes to make at home. Just one more hot tip, itâ€™s worth going to the airport early to grab something to eat at Leon in Terminal 2â€¦.well done Allegra McEvedy who said one couldnâ€™t get decent food in an airport!
Avocado, House Smoked Bacon, Poached egg, Coriander and Chilli on Sourdough
Serves 1 for lunch
2 organic eggs
2 slices smoked streaky bacon
1 slice of natural sourdough bread
extra virgin olive oil
1 ripe avocado
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 to Â¼ fresh red chilli, sliced
3 coriander sprigs
First poach the eggs. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Reduce the heat, swirl the water, crack the egg into a tiny bowl and slip the egg gently into the whirlpool in the centre. This avoids getting the tips of your fingers burned as you drop the egg into the water. The water should not boil again but bubble very gently just below boiling point. Cook for about 3â€“4 minutes, until the white is set and the yolk is still soft and runny.
Lift out the poached egg or eggs on a perforated spoon; drain.
Meanwhile fry the bacon on a hot pan until golden and slightly crisp.
Heat an iron pan grill, chargrill the sourdough on both sides.
Put the chargrilled sourdough on a warm plate, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Peel, stone and quarter a ripe avocado. Chop two quarters in half, (three quarters is usually enough for one portion). Lay on the chargrilled sourdough.
Top with two freshly poached eggs and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper.
Add a crisscross of two pieces of hot bacon. Sprinkle with thin slices of red chilli to taste.
Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh coriander and serve immediately.
You can poach the eggs ahead of time and then reheat them briefly in boiling water. Just cook them for a minute less than usual, and then slip them into a bowl of cold water to stop them from cooking further.
To reheat the poached eggs, bring a saucepan of water to the boil, draw off the heat and slip the egg back into the water for a minute or two until hot through.
Coconut Milk Porridge with Quince or Persimmon Jam and Raw Cashew Nuts
35 g (1Â½ oz) oatflakes
400 ml (1 can) coconut milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
25 g (1 oz) sugar
Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly
Cashew nuts, roughly chopped
Put all the ingredients into a saucepan. Stir, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
Serve in a warm bowl with a generous dollop of quince jam or apple jelly and a scattering of roughly chopped cashew nuts over the top
Violet Coconut Macaroons
There is a sublime crispy gooiness to these biscuits that makes them like nothing else on earth. Warning: they are very addictive. Violet is the name of Claireâ€™s bakery and shop on Wilton Way and her stall at Broadway Market, both in Hackney, London
3 free range egg whites
150 g (5 oz) caster sugar
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons honey
150 g (5 oz) desiccated coconut
Â½ teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
Heat the oven to 150Â°C/300Â°F/gas mark 2. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
Combine the egg whites, sugar, salt, honey and coconut in a large pan over a medium heat.
Stir the mixture constantly until everything is dissolved and it just begins to scorch on the bottom.
Take the pan off the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Let the mixture cool completely, then use an ice cream scoop to scoop out 12 even sized macaroons, and place them on the baking sheet.
Bake in the oven for about 10-15 minutes or until golden and set. Let the macaroons cool completely before peeling off the paper.
Tip: The key to getting these macaroons just right is to stir the ingredients in the pan until they begin to dry out.
LEON Baking and Puddings by Claire Ptak and Henry Dimbleb
Claireâ€™s Healthy Granola
You will not believe how good this tastes. It is light and clustery.
Makes 1.5 kg
500g buckwheat flakes
125g (4 1/2oz) whole almonds, skins on
50g (2oz) ground flax seeds
50g (2oz) sesame seeds
50g (2oz) pumpkin seeds
50g (2oz) amaranth
250ml (9fl oz) agave syrup
50ml (2fl oz) olive oil (not extra virgin)
100g (3 1/2oz) coconut oil
100ml (3 1/2fl oz) water
1Â½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Â½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
a grating of fresh nutmeg
a pinch of sea salt
100 g (4 oz) sultanas
50 g (2 oz) desiccated coconut
Preheat the oven to 150Â°C/300Â°F/Gas Mark 2.
Line two baking trays or roasting tins with parchment paper.
Combine the buckwheat flakes, whole almonds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and amaranth in a large bowl and set aside.
In a saucepan, combine the agave syrup, olive oil, coconut oil and water.Â Place over a medium heat and whisk constantly to melt it all together.
Remove the syrup mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla, spices and sea salt.Â Pour the syrup over the dry ingredients and stir well to completely coat all the nuts and seeds.
Spread the mixture out on the lined baking trays or roasting tins and bake in the oven for approximately 1 hour.Â Remove from the oven, toss well with a metal spatula and return to the oven.Â Lower the temperature to 140Â°C/275Â°F/Gas Mark 1 and bake for another 35-40 minutes, until the mixture is golden.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before stirring in the sultanas and desiccated coconut. Store in an airtight container.
Serve with fresh dates and natural yoghurt for a naturally sweet treat.
LEONÂ Baking and Puddings by Claire Ptak and Henry Dimbleby
Leon Pecan Pie
A simple, rich, gluten free pecan tart that has become a firm favourite.
For the sweet pastry
150 g (5 oz) butter
100 g (3Â½ oz) caster sugar
1 free range egg, plus 1 yolk
270 g (9Â¾ oz) gluten free plain flour
For the filling
50 g (2 oz) butter
225 g (8 oz) golden syrup
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour
2 large free range eggs
200 g (7 oz) pecan nut halves
Cream together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon or in a free standing electric mixture until smooth.
Add the egg and egg yolk and mix until fully incorporated. Add the flour and quickly bring it together in a ball. Wrap the pastry in cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Butter a 23-25 cm (9-10 inch) fluted flan tin. Roll the pastry out on a floured surface to about 3-5 mm thick and line your tart case with it. Trim the edges and chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 160Â°C/325Â°F/gas mark 3.
Line the chilled pastry case with baking paper and fill it with baking beans to stop it shrinking while itâ€™s being baked. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes then remove the baking beans. Return to the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes. The pastry should be a nice blond colour. Set aside to cool.
Put the butter and golden syrup into a medium saucepan over a low heat. When it becomes runny, take it off the heat and whisk in the sugar.
In a small bowl, whisk the cornflour and eggs until smooth then add to the saucepan.
Fill the baked pastry with the pecan halves. Pour the golden syrup mixture on top and fill it up to just below the edge of the case. Put into the oven, taking great care not to spill any liquid over the sides, as this might make it difficult to remove from the tin once it is baked.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the tart is a dark golden colour and has slightly risen in the middle. Take out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
Serve cold for tea or warm with vanilla ice cream
LEON Baking and Puddings by Claire Ptak and Henry Dimbleby
Saturday Pizza Masterclass
Philip Dennhardt will teach an exciting half day Pizza Masterclass on Friday 11th March 2016 from 2.30-5.00pm. Philip will take you through all the basics from choosing the right ingredients, making pizza dough, getting the best results from your oven, creating traditional and contemporary toppingsâ€¦.. from the classics Margherita, Pepperoni and Calzone to modern gourmet masterpieces â€“ think shrimp with watercress and dill-mayoÂ andÂ homemade cottage cheese with mint, caramelized red onion and salsa verde!
Decorating Celebration Cakes
Pamela Black has been a senior tutor at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for many years now and her ultimate culinary passion is cake decoration. On Saturday March 12th Pam will wow you with her culinary magic as she pipes, drizzles and adorns cakes into edible masterpieces.Â All manner of icings will be covered marzipan, buttercreams, ganaches, glacesâ€¦â€¦.
From decorating simple birthday cakes to fancy celebration cakes, formal and informal, fun and quirky, Pam is full of innovative ideas.Â There will be an opportunity to taste some of the cakes. www.cookingisfun.ie
Pop Up Dinner
Our Winter 12 Week Certificate students are cooking a Pop-Up Dinner at the Ballymaloe Cookery School on Sunday March 13th at 6.30pm for the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project.Â An aperitif, delicious nibbles and three course dinner. The theme is masquerade/carnival, places are limited.
Booking essential 021 4646785 or firstname.lastname@example.org