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Friday, 25 July 2014

REVIEW > CHAPTER ONE

So pre-Croatia, my family went to Chapter One in Orpington, Kent to celebrate my gorgeous mum's birthday. I'd been to Chapter One about 5 years ago when I was turning sweet 16 and all I can remember is that it was the first time I tried foie gras and felt questionable about it.  Anyway along with a bottle of wine, we treated ourself to the luxurious sounding Tasting Menu, a full 7 courses of decadence. The first course was a simple spring pea veloute; thick and strong with flavour. We were then treated to what may have been my favourite course of the night; treacle cured salmon served with charred spring onions and an aromatic coriander, ginger and sesame dressing. The salmon was sweet and tender and perfectly complemented the bitterness of the spring onions. My mum's favourite course was next; a girolle mushroom and chive risotto. The earthy flavours were served with creamy crème fraiche and parmesan and the whole thing was surprisingly light. I would have to add that so far, none of the dishes had felt overwhelming and my appetite was still strong after 3 courses (albeit they were very small tasters)! Next up is what I would call the main star of the night; the pressed belly of pork. A well cooked square of pork which was served alongside a succulent, juicy braised pork cheek, savoy cabbage, smoked potato and apple puree with a stick of crunchy crackling. We were then treated to a palette cleanser of raspberry sorbet and foam- MY FAVOURITE FRUIT. This was refreshing and prepared us for the pure food-porn dessert. Peanut and chocolate tart with salted caramel and banana sorbet- topped with little pieces of fudge. How could anyone resist? This was an amazing finish to the night and at this point (followed by a selection of chocolate and caramel truffles) I was ready to be carried home. 


Saturday, 19 July 2014

CROATIAN CUISINE

Eating across Croatia feels like eating in at least 3 different countries. The culinary influences range from Austrian and Hungarian to Turkish and Middle Eastern with a spattering of Italian inspired Mediterranean cooking and a smidge of complete originality. Starting in Zagreb, the city truly exhibited international flavours from around the world; my first dish was a splendid Schnitzel after all. Most popular was Italian cooking; with the love of risotto and gnocchi especially in most restaurants. Gnocchi here was fried with leeks and doused in cream or mixed with squid ink to make the silky 'black gnocchi' served with salmon sauce, sampled in the Croatian footballer's owned 'Boban' restaurant. Cevapi is the national dish, a Balkan, eastern European slash Turkish kebab style dish. Described to us by our hostel receptionist as 'meat fingers', the minced lamb sausages were served with onion salad and the popular ajvar salsa and had a very bold, meaty flavour. Moving down the coast we entered Split, which had a number of cute and authentic bistros. At Villa Spiza, we sat on crowded bar stools and watched as our chefs hastily cooked fresh prawn and courgette pasta for hungry locals. Here I tried pale green stuffed peppers with a rich tomato sauce washed down with a glass of local red wine. The food was unpretentious and welcoming; with fresh calamari and octopus salad were also popular choices on the chalkboard menu. Heading to Hvar, seafood became more pertinent on the menu's. 


























Dalmatian lobster was served in every way possible at a hefty price to yacht-hopping partygoers; think served alongside a saffron sauce, cooked up in a salad or with a goats cheese gratin. We sat outdoors in a local restaurant, slightly tipsy from strong frozen cocktails at Hula Hula. I had tuna with a pea pesto and a gorgeous potato salad, my flatmate gorged on what she described as 'buttery', 'garlicky' sea bass and our Australian traveller tucked into freshly fried squid. This was all followed by a shot of free grappa! Croatia's Adriatic coastline is well known for it's rocky shores and stunning beaches but the quality of seafood should also shine; mussels and shrimp were on almost every menu, usually served in a simple garlic butter sauce or 'Dalmatian' style. Our last stop was Kings Landing aka Dubrovnik, here the city's dish was the 'black risotto' or the cuttlefish risotto mixed in ink, herbs and white wine. Nearer the Bosnian border, Turkish food became more influential with syrupy servings of Baklava and thick Turkish coffee.  At Dubravka, overlooking the Red Keep...I mean the fortress, we enjoyed more sweet Croatian wine with sea trout and almonds. 360 is the most prestigious restaurant in Dubrovnik with stunning views of the harbour. I was dying to go and sample the famed 'The Garden' dish; a curious mix of raw Adriatic langoustines, Istrian truffles, lemongrass biscuit and Szechuan button flowers aka the 'electric flower'. However, I ran out of cash and instead had an Italian feast at Wanda, run by a friendly local who treated me to free prosecco and complained about Angela Merkel stopping his Istrian cheese from getting into the city.

FUN FACT: Pag cheese recently won an award at the 'world cheese awards'. Pag is an island (one of thousands in Croatia y'know) off the coast. The cheese is made from the sheep who nibble at the sea salt-encrusted herbs and flowers on the island. Apparently this provides a very aromatic flavour according to Igor our Plitvice Lakes tour guide. The cheese is then wrapped in oil and left to age. Very popular this Pag cheese is.


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

REVIEW > GRAIN STORE

Last Monday, a friend and I sprinted through the rain to get to Grain Store; a vegetable-friendly restaurant located just behind Kings Cross Station in Granary Square. The place is relatively new and is headed by chef Bruno Loubet, who I had the brief pleasure of seeing at a Taste of London talk! The menu is full of unusual combinations and Mediterranean touches; miso aubergine, wasabi soil, mustard apricots to name a few. The atmosphere of the place is really relaxed and seems to attract everyone from local art students to family's and hungry workers; bare brick walls and an open plan table setting gives the place an unpretentious feel. So onto the food. I ordered the vanilla butter hake with steamed seaweed sushi, braised pak choi and black garlic. The hake was delicious; buttery and perfectly cooked, the touch of vanilla really complemented the fish. The pak choi was crunchy and fresh and the seaweed sushi really matched the rest of the dish. I was initially confused when I ordered the dish and the waiter explained that they painted black garlic onto the plate. I assumed it was a miscommunication but when the dish arrived I saw that in fact, yes, black garlicky brushstrokes had been painted onto the base of the plate. My friend ordered the veggie cauliflower cous cous, spelt salad with vegetable merguez, yoghurt and pistachio dressing. Again, when the waiter spoke of a 'sausage' we were confused, however it turns out that a vegetable merguez is a vegetable sausage- something I had never heard of before. The dish was colourful, exciting and unusual, decorated with rose petals and chunks of pistachio. Both dishes were in fact very pretty; it's safe to assume Grain Store takes pride in the appearance of it's dishes.

For dessert we both ordered the experimental coconut and kaffir lime flavoured green tapioca with sweet potatoes and banana wafers. Sadly I was a bit disappointed with this and I'm not sure that sweet potatoes are a well balanced accompaniment to green tapioca. The banana wafer was also a bit disappointing; I wish it had a bit more flavour! Overall Grain Store was a very different restaurant experience and unfortunately not all of the elements worked. If I were to go again I would probably pass on the dessert and order the yummy sounding spiced lentil cake for a starter instead. OH. We cheekily ordered a side pot of banana ketchup. Easily the best thing on the menu; spicy, mustardy, much better than normal ketchup I can tell you. 


Thursday, 26 June 2014

TASTE OF LONDON

So I told you how I was going to Taste of London right? Well, that happened last week and it is safe to say it was amazing. A personal heaven of wine and food and pimms and more food. Taste of London returned to Regent's Park this year for its annual celebration of all things yummy. It was a perfect day for Taste; sunny skies and not a cloud in sight. Makeshift foam caps were even being handed out! So the currency of Taste are 'crowns' which equal a pound and (slightly annoyingly) can only be bought in packs of 5. 



I rocked up with my mum, our crown stock already burning a hole in my pocket and headed straight to Flesh and Buns for a portion of their roast pork belly with mustard miso and green apple in a steamed bun. It was amazing, a perfect delicate balance of the miso and pork and the bun was light as a feather. 


We wandered round for what seemed like ages, trying to get a 'flavour' of what's about, Taste of Thai exhibited some of the best Thai Restaurants in London at the moment, from Blue Elephant to Thai Tho. There was also a great 'Fruits of Thailand' section with carved watermelons and exotic fruits to experience. 


Lining the walkways of Taste were marquees of various companies and producers; I swear I got more free food and alcohol from the sample tents than I did from actual restaurants. We tried Cumbrian beer, sugared Indian flatbreads, Prosecco, Kimchi, Rose wine, lots of strawberry cheesecake truffles and a tonne of olives Bodega Olives, which we ended up buying 4 packs of!


Anyway, on to what I spent my crowns on. The best two dishes I sampled were from Salt Yard and Andre Garett at Cliveden House. I spent 5 crowns at the former on the famous deep fried goats cheese stuffed courgette flower drizzled with honey and at the latter we gorged on the prize winning peanut butter parfait with salted caramel and raspberry compote.



This stuffed me for the rest of the day and was possibly one of the best desserts I have ever eaten! Le Gavroche was surrounded by pappers trying to get a picture of Mr Roux himself- as was Maze and Jamie Oliver's Barbecoa, both popular choices for Tasters. Le Gavroche offered a luxurious sounding Lobster and Truffle Salad, Maze; the popular Bang Bang Chicken Hand Roll and Barbecoa- amazing sounding white chocolate Panna Cotta with Champagne strawberries and basil. Not only is there plenty of food to gorge on; there were sushi classes, a cooking tent and demonstrations from chefs such as Colin McGurran. I would happily come again to get involved with the classes! We finished the day off with a number of drinks; the best of which was a huge Pina Colada from the Mahiki tent served in a hollowed out pineapple. Nothing says summer better than a hollowed out pineapple after all. 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

RECIPE > COCONUT BREAD

Coconut loaf yeees

In all fairness this isn't really bread. It's a loaf cake. But I just used the word bread m'kay? A relatively simple recipe adapted from the wonderful smittenkitchen.com. Sift 315g of flour with 2 tsp of cinnamon powder, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 2 tsp of baking powder, then mix with 140g of shaved coconut and 200g of golden granulated sugar. Whisk 2 large eggs, 300ml of milk and a tsp of vanilla extract in a separate bowl. Then- making a well in the middle of the flour mix, poor the egg mix in and combine until well mixed. Then add 85g of melted butter into the mix until smooth and loosened. Line and flour a loaf tin then bake at 180 degrees Celsius for around hour and a half. Keep checking because all ovens are different of course! The best way to check is to insert a skewer into the loaf, if it comes out clean- it's cooked! Leave to cool in the tin. When ready to eat, slice and smother with jam, butter or thick manuka honey (it needs that extra moisture as coconut can be a tad drying). 

Monday, 16 June 2014

BEST FOR: FOOD FESTIVALS

SOUTH: TASTE OF LONDON

Admittedly I chose Taste of London because I am going there this year and I am so excited! The event takes place in London Regent's Park over 4 days starting THIS Wednesday; let's hope the weather picks up. Taste of London offers food from some of the best global chefs; Noma's Redpezi, the Rouxs, Raymond Blanc to mention a few over the years. Pop up stands and mini restaurants will be giving out tapas sized portions of some of the most exciting food in London today. As well as this there are sushi making classes, champagne tastings and interactive cooking masterclasses. A self proclaimed 'foodie wonderland'.



NORTH: LOCH LOMOND FOOD AND DRINK FESTIVAL

Heading North we find ourself at the picturesque Loch Lomond in Scotland. The famous festival lasts only two days from the 6th to the 7th of September but there is plenty to cram in during this time. Both fantastic local Scottish and International produce are showcased at this event; expect haggis pizza, fresh salmon and hog roasts. Not only this but there are street food sellers, live music and a deserved trip around the Brewery to sample some golden liquid. The chilli chocolate sausages are tipped as worth a try? Or stick to the shortbread.



ABROAD: MAINE LOBSTER FESTIVAL

Maine Lobster festival is hailed as one of the most popular fishy festivals in the world. The Maine Lobster is the celebrity guest of the seafood world and this event is a must for anyone who loves the pricey crustacean.  Running for over 60 years now in Rockland, Maine; the festival boasts 'creative' lobster prepping, lobster crate races and carnival rides. If that doesn't excite you (why wouldn't it), a giant steamer boils lobsters for visitors on the spot, served fresh and tasty. This year the festival is running from July 30th to August 3rd, so er book your flights now kids!



Thursday, 12 June 2014

REVIEW > SALVO'S, LEEDS

I've been to Salvo's before, but last time I was too excited by the food to take any pictures, in fact I barely achieved it this time. Salvo's, located in Headingly, is a favourite of Leeds locals serving fresh, simple Italian food for decades now. I chose this place for my birthday dinner (I turned 21 this week yo) and although it's a bit pricey for an average student dinner, I justified it as birthday occasion-worthy! Salvo's has a great selection of pasta, meat and fish and an excellent wine selection. The menu exhibits some of the best Italian ingredients cooked to perfection. My favourites are the Pasta Al Forno; a meatball and salami baked pasta dish smothered in a mozzarella gratin and the Pasta Alla Pecorara; a pork ragu dish with roasted peppers and smoked ricotta. Other recommendations; the giant belly-filling Calzone's or the Pollo Braciole; chicken thighs stuffed with sausage and sage, wrapped in pancetta (my mum is still raving about attempting to re-create this one). The specials often have a range of mouth-watering pricier options, which change weekly depending on what's in season, this has ranged from venison to seafood pasta or roman piglet. What I love most about Salvo's is how relaxed it is, the friendly atmosphere and fact it's full even on a Monday evening without feeling cramped. The decor is nice, straying away from pomp and fancy with pictures of Salvo and family which decorate the walls, highlighting Italian values of community and family strengthened by a love of food. Makes me feel a bit Italian. Salvo does also have a cafe and a deli around the corner, demonstrating how popular the restaurant has become in the neighbourhood. Outstanding cuisine, excellent service and a meets-all-needs atmosphere makes Salvo's a long-standing Leeds favourite.