- NEWS & ACHIEVEMENTS -

2011
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

2010
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'

2009
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

Sunday, 29 May 2011

EAT BARCELONA: Taperia Lolita and La Boqueria Market

I had never been to Barcelona, until recently. People who know me would always be shocked by this as I love to travel but had promised my Mother (long ago) that should I ever go there, it should be with her. So promise fulfilled, we seized the opportunity of the extra 4-day weekend we were given courtesy of Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding and off to Barcelona we went armed with recommendations from friends as well as the opportunity to meet up with fellow foodies 'Uncle Ji' of Twitter @VhatYouTalking and newly published author of cookery book, the lovely Niamh Shields of blog 'Eat Like A Girl'@EatLikeAGirland her fab new book Comfort and Spice.I waste no time in heading to the City's most famous food market, La Boqueria to marvel at the foodie delights that only a food-obsessed junkie like myself could faint at the sight of. The market is absolutely rammed and in hindsight, a Saturday morning is perhaps the worst time to have made our visit, but planning is SO un-Spanish. Everything is done very last minute, so thats exactly how we decide to roll during our trip. We are trying to eat breakfast somewhere, anywhere in fact would do but it is impossible to secure seats at any one of the dozens of eateries and Tapas bars in the actual market itself so we browse the market instead taking in every sight, sound and smell.
Whole legs of Jamon are hung from every possible place. '5J' Jamon (or Cinqo Jotas - meaning '5 Acorn' Iberico Jam) is among the finest hams money can buy. Only trumped by Pata Negra, the king of Spanish Jamon, known by it's characteristically dark (almost black) meat and generous and greatly-prized fat content. Whole piglets are also on display; a sight which some may find disturbing, but this is Spain; they are proud of their love for all things pig. They eat from nose to tail and don't waste a scrap, including the blood which makes excellent 'Morcilla' blood sausauge, I'm told. I haven't quite gotten my head around eating blood sausage, but I know it is delicious. Sometimes you just can't overcome some hesitations.The diversity of the stands at the market are absolutely incredible and if you Spanish produce was the only thing on offer, how very wrong you would be! Exotic fruits, vegetables, seafood, meat and every kind of cheese, delicacy and food stuff imaginable. Quite overwhelming in many ways really and if I'm honest, we did a quick tour and pretty much escaped the crowds as soon as possible. Still, I'm incredibly glad that we got to see the market, after all I had spent years wanting to visit it and never had the chance until now.We ate in various places in Barcelona, including Ferran Adria's (of the famous El Bulli) new opening of 'Tickets' but by far the most wonderful discovery came courtesy of my friend @VhatYouTalking which we were grateful to have discovered. Taperia Lolita is a wonderful little eatery located away from the obvious touristy spots and instead in a residential neighbourhood, evidence of which is seen as 90% of the diners at the Taperia, seemed to be locals who knew the staff very well.Taperia Lolita is actually owned by Albert Adria, the brother of famed molecular gastronomy Chef Ferran Adria and although you won't find any crazy dishes on the menu here, the Tapas is certainly more interesting than you would find in the more run-of-the-mill Taperias in town. 'Lolita' is actually a bull with red lipstick, fondly mounted on the wall. Vegetarians stand down, no animals were harmed in the mounting of Lolita, as she is not a real bull. She is very pretty though and does making a striking centre piece in the restaurant, especially in that wonderful shade of slut-red lipstick that graces her puckered lips.We pretty much ordered everything on the menu and the dishes came out in quick succession. In fact the only thing that we failed to order where the tempura-looking chicken fingers, which we later regretted as actually they are apparently quite famous for them. Dainty plates of baby octopus, sugar-crusted aubergine cubes (bloody marvellous!) squid, croquettes of Jamon, grilled sausages, black squid and squid ink croquettes (my absolute favourite Tapas of the lot) Cecina cured beef, broad beans with black truffle vinaigrette, white asparagus with truffles, salt cod (bacalao) fritters, pan con tomate (wafer thing crispy grilled bread with tomatoes), belly tuna with tomato and onion salad and so much more that I could barely remember!
Desserts at Taperia Lolita were pretty interesting too. The 'Pink Panther' cake is something I would normally NEVER order, but slicked in a gloriously thick pink (white chocolate) icing, it was so 'Tongue in cheek' that I simply had to have it. Strawberries macerated in Balsamic vinegar and sweetened with honey just burst with sharp acidic flavours in the mouth and the sweet honey flavour was a perfect finish to them. Lastly a fresh white cheese dessert that was almost gelatinous came with a huge jar of honey on the side and although not my favourite item on the menu, it was certainly pleasant enough.I could quite happily have eaten at Taperia Lolita EVERY SINGLE DAY, but sadly they close on Sundays and Mondays and therefore it was our first and last opportunity to experience their superb food. I highly recommend this as a MUST-DO dining destination in Barcelona... and if you are feeling particularly adventurous, then Ferran Adria's 'Tickets' is just a 2 minute walk from Taperia Lolita, so maybe you can blag a table on your way past.

Taperia Lolita
Tamarit 104, Poble Sec, Saint Antoni 08015 Barcelona
Metro Poble Sec [L2, L3]
Telephone +34 93 424 5231
http://www.lolitataperia.com/

La Boqueria Market
http://www.boqueria.info/

REVIEW: The Gilbert Scott Restaurant by Marcus Wareing

I have amassed a mountain of respect for Marcus Wareing. Brought into our line of vision by Gordon Ramsay, who he has since eclipsed rather massively through his culinary achievements and dedication to staying firmly in the kitchen, where a good Chef should spent the majority of his working time. With Restaurant Marcus Wareing, his highly successful first restaurant at The Berkeley Hotel, firmly established... opening a second restaurant was the next natural step for Wareing.Interestingly, The Gilbert Scott is also located within a very glamourous hotel, the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, which is certainly a good business decision in my opinion, although Chefs of Wareing's calibre never have problems filling tables. In fact, since its opening in late April, The Gilbert Scott has been fully booked almost constantly although securing a table certainly isn't impossible if you book in advance. The hotel is grand in a very old-school way; luxurious and old-money, rather than the boring overly styled sort of establishments that seem to be taking over the City.On the particular evening I dined, I was joined by wonderful food loving friends... The utterly hilarious and mysterious 'Uncle Ji' of Twitter fame @VhatYouTalking and the talented Chef and Supper Club host Lee Behan of @FridayFoodClub and his lovely wife (Mrs Friday Food Club). (Well worth visiting his website: http://www.fridayfoodclub.com and we settle in at the bar with it's comfortable leather slouchy chairs and attentive service. A truly lovely place for dainty Negronis and other such classic cocktails; we could easily have whiled away many an hour in the bar alone. Finally seated at the table, we peruse the menu and each settle on our chosen dishes for the evening. Decadence is the order of the day and how well-suited to The Gilbert Scott, it is.Lobster is one of those choices that I am always ashamed to make. Lobster is lobster, it's not exactly the most adventurous choice on the menu but never one to be swayed by general concensus, I opt for the lobster salad and I wasn't disappointed. Wonderfully meaty morcels of lobster meat, juicy and sweet with mixed leaves, croutons and an almost Marie Rose-like sauce and fennel shards proved to be the perfect opener to the meal. Not a big lover of quail, my friend assured me that I MUST try the quail Mulligatawny - served in a dainty little cocotte pot - and WOW, is all I can say. It is practically the only time I have actually enjoyed quail and wished I had ordered it. The quail was moist and tender, on the bone and bathed in a curried broth that did nothing to overpower the delicate bird. Superb.For mains, the haddock and mussels poached in Camel Valley Brut sauce was lovely and light which in our case was a good idea as between the four of us, we ordered a HELL of a lot of side dishes; Peas pudding, cauliflower cheese, roast potatoes, chips, spinach, mini yorkshire puddings and (wait for it) Paxo stuffing. Yes, Paxo stuffing! This, my friends, is what happens when you put 4 die-hard decadent foodies together on a table. Excess takes over and you end up ordering double the amount of food required to satisfy. No matter, life is short and is to be enjoyed. Our lovely Scottish waiter (young Nick) is highly amused by the sheer volume of dishes we have ordered. He deserves a special mention, because he was so incredibly efficient and attentive. Old school service of this kind is perfectly at home in an establishment such as The Gilbert Scott and if only more restaurants would try to ensure the same, then London would be a better place for it.Stuffed beyond all recognition, I find it impossible to refuse the offer of dessert. I would ultimately only end of regretting it later on in the evening, so I hone in on a classic Bakewell tart (which seems to be appearing on menus everywhere) and it was rather wonderful, although incredibly sweet. I could have lived without the icing on top, but then again it wouldn't have been a proper Bakewell tart without it. The moist almondy sponge encased just a hint of jam and made for the perfect dessert with it's accompanying dollop of Jersey cream. Perfection that may have just sent me slightly over the edge of what my stomach feels comfortable with.

After dinner, we are given a tour of the kitchens and there, busily toiling over the pass is Marcus Wareing himself. This is the most pleasing part of the evening to me. Shunning the limelight and PR shenannigans of his new opening, Wareing has his head down and is focused on delivering top quality food to his dinners. The Chefs table in the kitchen is filled with diners, many of whom are food writers I recognise and Wareing doesn't take his eyes off the pass for a second. He isn't schmoozing them or chatting with them; he is a Chef and is dedicated to his craft. An admirable quality in a Chef and especially in Wareing, who could so easily become the latest TV darling of our nation, but hasn't succumbed to the bright lights and camera flashes, thankfully.

As we leave, we spy a large table of about 16 or so of some of the most well known Chefs, restaurateurs and critics in the industry. Peter Gordon, Yotam Ottolenghi and Trevor Gulliver but to name a few... all seated in a cramped manner at a table in the bar tucking into their chosen dishes, seemingly just happy to be there. Who knew Tuesdays nights were the new Friday? The Gilbert Scott could be set to eclipse Heston Blumenthal's 'Dinner' restaurant as the greatest new opening of 2011. Either way, it is a MUST-visit destination for serious foodies who are looking for something infinitely less formal than Wareing's first opening. It's a real slice of what is best and should be revered about Britain and it's food... and what a thoroughly enjoyable experience it was.

The Gilbert Scott
St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, London NW1 2AR
Tel: +44 207 278 3888
www.thegilbertscott.com

Sunday, 22 May 2011

RECIPE: Persian 'Baghala Ghatogh' Broad Beans with Garlic, Dill & Truffles

I do love a good truffle. No, I'm not talking about the chocolatey kind; although they are nice, nothing is as seductive as the heady-scent of earthy, umami tasting white and black truffles. Although white truffles are the more prized (and therefore more expensive) of the two, call me ghetto, but I love black truffles.

I first discovered 'Mister Truffle' on Twitter (@MisterTruffle) a few months back and so when my fabulous Spring truffle arrived, I wanted to do something special with it. It's easy to pair truffles with European food but fusing it with Persian food, is an entirely different affair. Persian food is rich in tomatoey-ness and also acidity from lemon juice... these just happen to be two things that are pretty unpleasant when combined with truffles. So what to do? Then it hit me! There is an incredibly delicious broad bean dish hailing from the northern provinces of Mazandaran and Gilan, by the Caspian Sea, that would work brilliantly with truffles!

Baghala Ghatogh (Baghala or Baghali, meaning broad bean) is a dish usually eaten as a side dish, but in today's society starter, side or mains are all perfectly acceptable too. The dish is HEAVY in garlic but for some reason doesn't feel overpowering. Scrimping on the garlic and the dill is a big mistake as the whole crux of the dish is based on these two flavours combines with the beans and topped (rather regally) with a cracked egg. I chose a fried egg on this occasion, but the tradition is to crack on egg on the finished bean mixture whilst in the pan, let it cook through and serve it straight away. Either way, it is still a stand-out dish for me and one of my favourite dishes from my childhood.

'Baghala Ghatogh' - Persian Broad Beans with Garlic, Dill & Truffles

1 kg of frozen broad beans (available from M&S, Sainsburys & Middle Eastern supermarkets), shelled with all skin removed
4 large free range eggs
1 whole bulb of garlic, cloves bashed then sliced
3 small packets of fresh dill, finely chopped
3 teaspoons of turmeric powder
2 generous pinches of saffron (Persian saffron is the most superior in the world)
Cooking oil
Knob of butter
Maldon Sea Salt
30g of black or white truffle (entirely your preference)

METHOD
This is a one-pan dish, so preheat a large cooking pot over a medium heat (lower if using gas!) and add a drizzle of olive oil and lightly sweat the garlic down, cooking it til it becomes slightly translucent and cooked through. If it begins to brown too quickly, remove from heart, turning heat down and return a few minutes later. Then add your shelled broad beans and turn the heat up just a little and stir well.

Add your turmeric, saffron and several generous teaspoons of Maldon sea salt, crushed and lastly add your chopped dill. Mix all the ingredients well together to incorporate the spices and allow the beans to cook just a little more, almost til they change from bright grassy green, to a slightly duller green. This is when they are cooked properly; the process should take about 10 minutes after adding your spices and lastly grate or shave your truffle into the mixture and stir welll. Once you reach this stage, crack 4 free range eggs onto different areas in the pan and simply allow them to cook through, using the heat from the beans. This will take no more than 5 or so minutes. Serves immediately, with some bread (Persian flatbread or Tortilla wraps are nice and thin and therefore ideal) and enjoy!

REVIEW: Tickets by Ferran Adria - Barcelona

I recently came back from stunning Barcelona; where perfect weather, wonderful sights and fabulous food made me believe I could quite happily never leave the City or need to be anywhere else in the world. Of all my wonderful eating experiences, the most memorable shall long remain my dinner at Ferran Adria's new 'Tickets' eatery... Indeed the hottest 'Ticket' in town.The restaurant is situated in the 'Para Lel' area, mainly residential, away from the main touristy parts of town. Fortunately we stumbled across it after a long lunch one day and begged them to turn my table of 2 into a table of 4 so some very good friends who also happened to be in town, could join our little dinner adventure too. I always maintain, that food tastes infinitely better when shared with friends... not to mention the fact that you can try far more dishes than if there were just 2 of you! Very fortunately, all our flirting and banter seemed to do the trick and they kindly accommodated our larger party for dinner.The restaurant itself doesn't look particularly glam or showy and in actual fact it does rather look like a West-end theatre ticket desk from the outside, except for the bizarrely attired doorman who is dressed like a circus ringmaster. Could this go some way to explaining the name and concept of the eatery? Not yet. Inside there is an open kitchen but also 4 other food stations, where Chefs are busily creating dishes using special giant tweezers, using sauces, powders, knives and trickery. Candy floss trees are being made and dotted with edible flowers, berries and grated lime zest and glitter. There is magic afoot here and suddenly you feel like a kid in a candy shop or even better like a winning golden ticket holder in Charlie's (not just chocolate) factory... Or maybe this 'Ticket' is Ferran Adria's marvellous food factory.
The menu is a simple paper leaflet with perhaps 5 or so dishes under several seperate headers; Snacks & El Picoteo, The Oysters, Los Ibericos Joselitos (Iberico Ham), Els Xuxis (meaning mouthfuls), Tapetes Del Mar y Del Tierra (Little Tapas' from land and sea), To Finish (larger savoury dishes), Pastres y Golosinas (Desserts and Candies). Our waiter was the very funny and flamboyant Xavier, who ensured that we don't refer to him as 'excuse me, hello, please or sir...' making sure we called him 'Chavvy' I'm aware that in Catalan it should be 'Xavi' but when it is said, it sounds like that ever-familiar English reference to the much hated Burberry-clad breed of folk that populate our nation, the Chavs. So 'Chavvy' it is!We are told how we must order (i.e. only in the order it appears on the menu), we are told how the food will arrive and later as each course arrives we are told specifically which tool we must use to eat the dish. A tad patronising, but I guess they wouldn't show any objection to me abandoning the provided pair of giant 'Tickets' tweezers (which you are reminded cost 20 Euros and can be purchased upon departure) but if I want to use a fork, I will use a fork and if I feel it best to use my fingers, then I know no one on God's earth could stop me. What I did find genuinely annoying is that I don't really drink wine (only dessert wine really) and I didn't want Cava or beer and despite their being a bar next door owned by them, they weren't able to magic me up a Mojito or the like. This was a tad disappointing and so I stuck to water and a syrupy glass of Lustao sherry throughout the night.
The first few dishes arrived in quick successcion and as we were starving, this was a good thing. 'Mini air-bags' stuffed with Manchego cheese and Iberian bacon, were delicate little mouthfuls of crispy air-puffed wafer filled with saliva-inducing combination of cheese and Iberian bacon; silly name but absolutely delicious. 'Jamon' de Toro: Home-salted Tuna belly painted with Iberian cured ham fat was curiously delicious. Your head tells you it is fish and yet because of the coating of ham fat, it really does make it hard to determine exactly what it is. This is when you know you are being "Adria'd" somehow; your mouth is telling you something completely different to your brain. 'Air-baguette' de Pernil (Pernil being the Catalan word for ham or Jamon) tiny little baguettes arrived beautifully wrapped in Iberian ham but when you bit into it, the pastry is not at all as expected and actually crumbles in a very delicate and pleasing manner in your mouth. Next arrivals were marinated salt cod with tomato nectar and black olive powder. I was worried about the punginess of this dish, given that it was essentially acidulated, uncooked salt cod (or Bacalao) but it was absolutely wonderful; the gently salted cod was a perfect marriage for the sweetness of the tomato nectar and the crunchy toast bases and olive toppings made each mouthful a revelation for me. 'Liquid Ravioli' were a strange and interesting idea; a gelatinous cheese ravioli (of sorts) that exploded in the mouth delivering a cold version of, well, a pasta-less raviolo. Tomato seeds and anchovies from the Bay of Biscay were not a dish of my choosing, although my dining companions loved it and of course it did seem ever so pretty and delicately arranged. No wonder they use tweezers, I couldn't possibly conceive of putting such delicate dishes together without a pair in my hand! Grilled razor clams with ginger, cayenne pepper and lemon 'air' were an interesting creation. Topped with what could only be described as a foam or 'spuma' if you're posh, this was the least pleasant of all the dishes. The lemon foam had an overwhelming soapy quality I would liken to Persil soap powder with abrasive lemon pungency. I love razor clams but found the lemon foam overpowered every other aspect and made the dish very unpleasant.Lobster 'unilateral' cooked with spices 'Al Andalus' was a simplebut lovely dish. A whole split, rather small, lobster with a buttery spice that was very enjoyable indeed, tail meat, claw meat, the lot... all very delicious, no trickery involved whatsoever. Nice to see that some dishes are straightforward; a brave step away from El Bulli style of cooking. Orange salade with Gordal olives, cumin and mint came enrobed in a strangely familiar dressing which we realised was not actually the Gordal olives themselves but rather the olive juice which was used to make a simple and very effective salad dressing. Something we can all recreate, I should think. Rabbit ribs with sparkling garlic mayonnaise (their words, not mine) was like the KFC of rabbit! Superbly crunchy and crispy outer coating with a punchy garlic mayonnaise. Not sure what the 'sparkling' bit was about, probably a reference to a little addition of Cava, perhaps? We may never know. White asparagus with black truffle juice and Iberian ham were lovely and juicy with a perfect pairing of little nuggets of Jamon and an earthy black truffle vinaigrette.The final savoury dish was the confit pork in olive oil with pork rib sauce and Iberian boiled ham; although a nice dish, this was by far the most plain dish of this evening's rather varied menu. It was nice enough but definitely not a show stopper. The desserts on the other hand were exactly that; 'Show stoppers'. Curious little concoctions in every shape, size and colour and the constant production of these intriguing candy floss trees made me crave dessert more than I have ever done in my entire life. Cubed watermelon cocktail, soaked in Sangria was simply more than words could say. A perfectly crisp, fruity, cleansing mouthful with a nice hit of Sangria... I couldn't think of a better dessert for a summer's day. But it was the 'Rottle de Crema Catalana' that kept getting my attention; pastry horns filled with Crema Catalana and crusted in sugar and a smattering of cinnamon. I thought they would be heavy pastry bites and filled with a heavy Crema filling, but the lightness was incredible. In fact, so light were they that I manage to inhale mine within seconds. Absolutely monumental! A dessert I will remember (and crave) for a long while yet.

The last two dishes were rather less serious and more fun than the the other two desserts. Cold and hot chocolate fritters (I do love a good contradiction!) Little round fried donuts filled with a ball of hard frozen chocolate ice cream that stays in tact until you bite into it, when it suddenly explodes in a burst of chocolatey goodness in your mouth. Last but by no means least, my candy floss tree or actually 'Arbol de algodon de Tickets' - most likely set to become the signature way to end your meal and at 5 Euros, why the hell not? Not much to say about the tree other than the number of flavours they had managed to get on this tree were mind-boggling. Lemon zest, lime zest, redcurrants, blackberries, blueberries, wild strawberries, edible flowers... it wasn't just a tree, it was a feat of culinary engineering that was done with such precision, you know you would happily have paid 20 Euros for it, without batting an eyelid.Wow. What an experience. I'm not even sure how on earth I managed to put it into words! The theme behind tickets became more and more apparent as the evening drew on; Cabaret posters on the wall, candy floss, circus lighting with Jamon suspended from the ceiling... it starts to make sense. Still, it is rather bizarre but only in the most pleasing of ways. The prices are surprisingly reasonable; after all the food that we managed to quaff, coupled with many glasses of wine, cava, beer and Sherry, the menu + service didn't amount to more than 60 Euro per person! A bargain if you ask me!

I would love to be able to come back here next year when the menu changes and see what else 'Tickets' will be offering, but I strongly suspect that I only managed to secure this booking by sheer luck and that once the reviews get out for 'Tickets' the world will want a slice of this all-singing, all-dancing, circus exravaganza that is Ferran Adria's newest sensation... Tickets.