Delicious Magazine Recipe Feature Recipes published in Princes Trust Charity 'Trusty' Cookbook Guest panellist on UKTV Food's 'Market Kitchen' Recipes published in 'Come Dine With Me Special Occasions' book Blog named as a "Media Must-Have" in Jan & Feb issue of Olive Magazine

Launch of Sabrina's one-to-one private cookery tuition Guest critic on Gordon Ramsay's 'F-Word' series finale Organised Top Chef Charity Banquet for Haiti raising £70,000 for 'Action Against Hunger' Seasonal Food & Recipe Writer for 'Blue Tomato'

Winner of Channel 4's 'Come Dine With Me' (West London) 'Bronze' winner in professionally judged 'AA Home Cooking Competition 2009' Appointed resident cookery columnist for Foodepedia

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Saturday, 31 July 2010

REVIEW: Koffmann's at The Berkeley

After almost a decade of absence, Pierre Koffmann is at last back with a new restaurant. A brief appearance at the helm of a hugely successful pop-up restaurant at Selfridges last Autumn sent bloggers and writers into a frenzy, cementing the public's desire to see Koffmann back in the kitchen. The man is a legend and has set tongues wagging with his recent re-emergence on the London restaurant scene, at the same location that previously housed the second incarnation of ‘La Tante Claire’, The Berkeley Hotel.

This time around, cooking is less ostentatious and more condusive to the hearty traditions of Koffmann's Gascon heritage. Good old fashioned rustic cookery, no pomp or fanfare, instead bold dishes that remain unapologetically simple… the kind of food that sticks to your ribs and warms your insides. Comfort food, like no other. The menu is peppered with classic Koffmann dishes like scallops with squid ink, pigs trotters stuffed with sweetbreads and morel mushrooms as well as the infamous pistachio souffle. My starter of cassoulet of escargot and girolles with mashed potato was served in a miniature Le Creuset pot complete with a thin garlic croute. The escargot had a wonderfully smokey taste and without the usual lashings of garlic butter, it made it possible to actually taste them and they were superb. A bite of my friends scallop with squid ink starter served up a contrast of delicate white scallop, soft and sweet with a jet black slick of glossy squid ink.

A mini portion of the pig's trotter was served to us as a special course courtesy of Pierre Koffmann and although personally I would never have chosen this dish for myself, it was absolutely delicious and incredibly delicate, perfumed generously with morels. My main course of rump of lamb with couscous came in thick slices and cooked to medium-rare perfection. Glistening with meaty juices and every mouthful wonderfully succulent and tender. The couscous accompaniment spiced with middle-eastern flavours, was a tad heavy on the cinnamon and cumin but nothing I couldn't handle. My companion chose calf's liver ‘Lyonnaise’ the liver served in manageable slices was outstanding with a crispy shard of salty bacon against creamy mashed potatoes laced with cream and butter. A mini fry-basket of golden frites wrapped in this week's ‘Le Monde’ newspaper looked out of place on the table, but proved to be a welcome treat with crispy, salty fries that you only wish McDonalds could produce!

Our chosen desserts had to be the pistachio souffle and dark chocolate mousse. There is not much you can say about Koffmann's pistachio souffle that hasn't already been said… but ‘glorious’ would be a pretty apt term to describe the feather-light, pale green souffle that receives a spoonful of ice cream through the centre as its served. My chocolate mousse was the stuff of legends, not tainted with unecessary harsh liquor, just sinfully chocolatey and devillishly good.

Your average starter at Koffmann's is priced at around £8-10 with main courses starting at £17 and desserts from £7, which represents the value that we all need in belt-tightening times like these. Knightsbridge is quickly becoming THE destination for consummate foodies with Gordon Ramsay's Petrus around the corner, Marcus Wareing also residing at The Berkeley and Daniel Boulud's ‘Bar Boulud’ already open at The Mandarin Oriental and Heston Blumenthal soon to arrive at the same site, competition has never been so intense. But Pierre Koffmann is a silent hero, shunning the limelight in favour of the familiar heat of the stoves, demonstrating the same exceptional technique and skill that made him the legend he is today. His reign over London will no doubt secure him a place alongside culinary greats such greats as Bocuse and Escoffier.

Is it possible that we have at last receded to the glory days of restaurants where Chefs were in their kitchens, where book deals and TV shows were not the priority and where eating out was about experiencing good, honest cooking at justifiable prices? Let's hope so. If predictions are to be believed, Koffmann's is set to become the darling of the London restaurant scene so I would book whilst you still have the chance!

The Berkeley, Wilton Place, London SW1X 7RL
T: +44 (0)20 7235 6000

Thursday, 29 July 2010

REVIEW: Cantina Laredo

The latest Mexican offering served up to London comes in the form of Cantina Laredo, a newly opened restaurant on the fast-evolving ‘St Martins Courtyard’ strip of the West End. Amid promises of top quality ingredients and skilled authentic cookery courtesy of Chef Ruben Lozano, we head to Cantina Laredo to experience “The authentic taste of Mexico” for ourselves.

Staff are impeccably attired; sporting starched white shirts and black demi-aprons which remind me of a Gordon Ramsay establishment rather than a Mexican eatery. You can always tell when a restaurant is fairly new as the number of staff tends to outweigh the number of customers, which at 6pm can be a tad intimidating. Each table has a strategically positioned bowl containing an avocado and a lime; an ingenious but opportunistic sales ploy to promote the self-proclaimed ‘Top-Shelf’ Guacamole priced at an eye-watering £6.95.

The food here is definitely not cheap but if I thought it was just the food that was expensive, I balked when I clocked the price of the cocktails starting from £9.50 for a standard Margarita? Escalating to £14.50 if you opt for a Margarita made with Patron tequila. For that sort of money you could be sipping the finest cocktails in the bar of some ϋber-chic 5-star hotel in London.

The waiter recommends a Casa Rita Margarita for my guest and I go for a Mango Margarita. “You certainly get value for money” says my friend when the full punch of tequila hits her. I take a sip of my mango Margarita only to discover that I also got more than I’d bargained for when I spy a piece of red onion and some coriander floating past my eyes as I’m taking my first sip. I dread to think how this could happen when the bar is nowhere near the kitchen and therefore can only imagine that it has jumped from a dirty cloth that has been used to wipe a table, straight into my glass.

Tortillas are thrusted onto my table along with two mysterious bowls of sauce, no explanation as to what the differences are and in my experience one is spicier than the other. They both look the same so I guess I will have to experiment for myself as no one has bothered to give me the required explanation. The guacamole is good, but nothing special and it certainly had no element of piquancy whatsoever. The waiters’ recommendation of Queso Laredo arrives as a bowl of anaemic cheese liquid with a scattering of ground beef, not what I had expected at all and the flavour is bland and the consistency is gloopy and unpleasant.

The main courses are nothing short of atrocious and I wouldn’t be lying if I said we struggled to choose anything at all amongst the long list of tedious ‘Tex-Mex’ dishes. Having finally opted for the ‘Fiesta grill’ which is a platter of assorted grilled meats including steak, chicken, prawns and ribs. Ribs? Yes, ribs… not very Mexican at all. ‘Carne asada y camarones’ is our other choice, if only to see how on earth a steak could be wrapped around a pepper that is stuffed with cheese, mushrooms and prawns and still have a decent chance at tasting good. The steak arrives both grey and uninviting although well-marinated with a decent flavour but the mish-mash of peppers with cheese, mushrooms and prawns prove too torturous an experience for my palate.

The Fiesta platter is equally poor with overcooked hunks of flavourless chicken and steak and a whole spatchcocked quail that is so undercooked that I could probably revive it with a little CPR! Cutting into it, I reveal oozing bloodied organs that are completely raw and what is even worse is that upon clearing the heaped plate of barely eaten food, our waiter later approaches us and says “I hope you have enjoyed your food?” proving that little notice was taken of what we ate and although our waiter Andrew was very nice, I found the numerous approaches to the table from other staff asking me if everything was ok, a little too much to stomach.

At this point I have figured that the meal could only go uphill from here and so I thought I would be brave and order dessert. But where are the Churros? Shocked by the absence of my absolute favourite sugar and cinnamon dusted donuts, I decided to share a chocolate cake with my guest. What arrived came as no surprise, ready-made bought in chocolate fudge cake and bog standard vanilla ice cream, which I swapped for cinnamon ice cream instead. Still, at this stage I wasn’t expecting miracles and to be honest, I’m only glad that I was able to eat something.

I had expected greater things from Cantina Laredo, it has to be said. The food was not remotely authentic and not a single dish that we ordered seemed to have any hint of chilli in it, which was strange. In fact the meal reminded me more of the kind of fare that TGI Friday’s seem to ply to unsuspecting tourists, hoping people won’t know the difference. The problem is I do know the difference, most people these days know the difference. The difference between real Mexican food, which should be simple, fresh, clean in flavour and very reasonably priced versus this kind of mock-Mexican offerings of ‘Fiesta platters’ and the like. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it; Mexican cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in London with Wahaca leading the sweepstakes with 3 London restaurants and so many new ventures having followed suit, it is really difficult to see where Cantina Laredo will fit in.

I suppose the West End is full of these unauthentic tourist havens that people flock to for a quick-fix meal, as long as authenticity isn’t high on the agenda and so Cantina Laredo may fit the bill. But for people who know about food and expect quality and standards that match the steep prices that they are paying, I would give Cantina Laredo a miss.

Address: St Martin's Courtyard, 10 Upper St Martin's Lane, London WC2H 9FB www.cantinalaredo.com

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

NOT Free Range? Can "Gü" Believe It?

I went along to a focus group hosted by Britain's favourite chocolate pud maker, Gü. Perceived by most Brits as somewhat of a luxury brand, Gü offer a range of over 20 choccy-packed products as well as their fruit range Frü, which carries approximately 7 different products. That's a pretty hefty market presence, no? A brand that has become so popular, that has captivated the nation solely through word-of-mouth, a few adverts in foodie magazines and just a single tv commercial... A brand that is the front-runner when it comes to providing ready to eat and partially-ready chocolate desserts to a nation of grateful chocolate lovers and lazy pud-eaters.
Shocked? Yes, I was too. The focus group was actually fun until this point in the evening. I cannot believe that our hard earned pounds still don't seem to be enough to secure us free-range eggs and even worse, there is nothing to tell you on ANY of their packaging that you are, essentially, consuming eggs from battery hens! Now I know lots of people may not care about this, but let me just remind you of just SOME of the conditions that battery hens live in;

- No natural daylight most of the time
- Hens kept in ridiculously overcrowded pens
- Often, dead hens go unnoticed and can remain amongst healthy hens for days
- Without free range, hens get no space to roam free & remain stressed most of the time, unhealthy and often injured/sick until they die
- Quality of eggs can be affected if the hens that produce your eggs are mixed in with other sick/dead hens

IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT TO EAT? Or even worse, what you are happy to feed to your kids? At the very least, we should be made aware that Gü does not contain free-range eggs and then (and only then) can you make an informed decision about whether or not you are happy with the ingredients of what you feed yourself and family. For the hefty price tags that we pay, we should be getting top quality ingredients throughout, good chocolate alone is not enough! One reason I was given for their inability to use free-range eggs was "Well we tried using it for our chocolate souffle, but the free-range egg wouldn't rise!" Um, hello? Ever tried adjusting the volume of baking powder? If every other cook on the planet (including myself) can make the same thing using free-range eggs, then there is no excuse!

What are you thoughts on this subject? I am curious to know what people think and whether you are shocked about this information? All invited guests in the focus group were definitely shocked about it!


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

GREECE is the word

Having never been to Greece, I really didn’t have any idea what to expect from my first visit. I visited my friends Dimitra and Danis, whom I met in Egypt whilst I was on holiday last year and they were on their honeymoon. We bonded immediately and they came to visit me in London last year and so I headed to Thessaloniki to visit them for a week.

Thessaloniki is a sizeable city lined with olive trees, itself a port that was once a city within castle walls. It is closely located to the magnificent 2,917 metre-high Mount Olympus as well as the stunning beaches and coastline of Halkidiki. Throughout my stay, I visited each of the three peninsulas of nearby Halkidiki to experience the various different beaches and scenic coastlines, where the Aegean sea gently laps the shore, enticing you with their vibrant jade and turquoise waters. The pristine beaches attract locals and tourists alike with their rugged, unspoilt beauty and picturesque coastline. No wonder the Greeks are so fiercely proud of their nation, which despite a state of economic ruin, people seem to do their very best to try and live a normal life, tightening their belts as they go.

Greece is famous for many things including a rich history and culture; but these things aside, food is one of the most important things in the world to Greeks and conveniently this is an ethos that bodes particularly well with me also. When I think about Greeks, images from the movie ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ spring to mind. “You don’t eat no meat? What do you mean you don’t eat no meat? Don’t worry, I make lamb!” – Aunt Voula’s answer to catering for vegetarians which had me roaring with laughter. In many countries including my own native Iran, vegetarianism is an affliction and is not something that many people partake in and I can confidently say that there really aren’t many vegetarians in Greece as most people seem to eat meat. Meat is very special to the Greeks and it’s very expensive and therefore revered accordingly.

But if like me you thought that Greeks eat a lot of lamb, you would be disappointed, as I found out at each meal time where pork seems to be the key player of meals that include meat. Lamb tends to be served mainly at Easter or Christmas and large family gatherings for special occasions. I was lucky enough to have been invited to two different homes for traditional meals; the first lunch was at the Gertsaki home where my friend Dimitra’s mother, Mrs Gertsaki made a huge pan of ‘Keftedes’ meatballs accompanied by tasty potato wedges bathed in olive oil and oregano (which seems to the be the herb of choice everywhere you go) slow cooked alongside the meatballs, soaking up their wonderful meaty juices. The table was laden with lots of other delicious treats, some of which seem to be a standard accompaniment for every meal, including tomato, cucumber and onion salad, my favourite Kalamata olives, feta cheese and a spicy spreadable feta cheese paste. All this food lovingly prepared just because I was in town, which made me feel very special indeed.

The second lunch was at the Katemliadis house, home to my friend Danis’ parents which proved to be an occasion for another feast with a freshly made Pastizio made by Mrs Katemliadis in my honour. Along with Keftedes, Pastizio is one of my favourite Greek dishes made in a big pan layering minced meat and macaroni with tomato sauce and topped with béchamel. Also served were wonderfully garlicky veal meatballs called Zukakia, swimming in a rich stewed tomato sauce. Every mouthful had my mouth watering and wanting more, but there is only so much once person can stomach sometimes! After two huge portions of Pastizio, many meatballs and various side dishes of salads, cheese and olives, I literally couldn’t eat another bite. But if I had any ideas of stopping at this point, they were quickly pushed aside by the near-immediate service of watermelon (Karpuzi) followed by a huge serving of syrup soaked ‘Reveni’ cake sprinkled with cinnamon powder. At this point, I cannot breathe and have to explain my predicament to my hosts in hope that they are not offended by my inability to put away any more food than I have already done.

Desserts in Greece are pretty interesting actually. Why so? Well I noticed that almost every dessert, however varied, seems to have one thing in common in the fact that they are usually either cake or pastry soaked in masses of syrup or honey. The first dessert I tried was ‘Bugatza’, delicious squares of layered filo pastry filled with a thick crème patisserie, served warm right from the oven and sprinkled with cinnamon. ‘Trigono’ quickly became one of my favourites also, which consist of crunchy little triangular pastry cones (similar to the layered sweetness of Baklava, minus the nuts) filled with a thick crème patisserie. ‘Loukoumades’ are little donuts that are soaked in honey syrup, although they also come both sugared and plain. I also tried various cakes as well as a dessert of nuts and thin vermicelli noodles, both soaked in honey syrup. Last but by no means least, we couldn’t possibly leave out ‘Baklava’ which in Thessaloniki is made using walnuts rather than the more familiar filling of pistachios or cashew nuts that we see in England.

After such sweet desserts, there is only one thing I crave and that is a nice cup of coffee to cut right through the syrupy sweet taste in my mouth. But in Greece coffee doesn’t just come at the end of a meal and it certainly isn’t just a morning thing either. In fact, whilst in Greece I quickly came to realise that going for coffee is a bit of an institution. Morning, noon or night, anytime is the perfect time to go out with friends or family and enjoy a long, leisurely coffee of your choice and this can take quite some time as they really don’t like to rush this whole coffee ritual. In summer you can grab a cooling ‘Freddo’ coffee over ice or a blended iced ‘Frappe’ coffee. If cold coffee isn’t your thing, how about a nice Greek coffee? Yes, I said Greek coffee, not Turkish coffee at all. I always thought that the international name for those little cups of devilishly dark and aromatic coffee with a head-piercing dose of caffeine was always ‘Turkish’ coffee… but clearly not so in Greece and if I were you, I would steer well clear of having this conversation as coffee is a serious business for the Greeks.

Having sunbathed on the beaches of Halkidiki and fished for delicious sea urchins in the Aegean sea, sipped coffee on Mount Olympus, lost myself in grove after grove of olive trees in the hills of Parthenonas and strolled the port and streets of Thessaloniki, I am once again back home in London and already wishing I was back in Greece. How did I not come here sooner? I guess that’s the thing about trying to see the world isn’t it? There is so much to see and so many countries you want to visit, so you don’t always get the time to see everything as soon as you would like to. Greece has definitely won my heart now and I would love nothing more than to be able to afford a little house in the hills around Halkidiki, but for now I will have to make do with booking another ticket to come back and visit my friends again in January to experience the winter and ski resorts of the mountains that overlook Thessaloniki. So ‘Evgalisto’ to my hosts in Greece for looking after me so well and taking me to so many wonderful places and feeding me so much wonderful food, despite my penchant for guzzling masses of diet coke (much to their horror!) with absolutely every meal.