Sunday, 19 October 2014


Roman Road is one of the oldest roads in London, following the original paved road built by the Romans to secure their colonial hold on south-east England. It was the major trade route between London and the Roman town of Colchester.  And it has been all about trade ever since.
Although it has one toe virtually in trendy Shoreditch, the other is firmly planted in the East End, nowhere more so than Roman Road Market itself, with its fruit and fashion stalls, and eel, pie and mash shop.
However, there is a new invasion taking place. Just as the gentrification of Hackney was made visible by the arrival of Foxtons (heralded by some as the day Hackney died), Entrepôt, Lardo, Raw Duck; so too coffee bars and estate agents have been steadily making their way towards the western boundary of "The Roman," as the market is called in these parts. Now Vinarius (a suitably Latinate name) has made the first proper breach, a wine bar with scrubbed brick walls, polished wooden floors opening within the market area itself. It brings with it the language of the invaders: "artisan", "craft", "authentic".
It's just the place to drop in and pick up a bottle of small estate Italian or Spanish wines; or an interesting Hungarian furmint which proves to be dry, light and crisp with hints of honeycomb sweetness. There is also a good range of prosecco, as well as local craft beers and an Italian olive oil.
Or stop by in for coffee or a glass of wine.  Bottles open last week included a salty almond Pecorino from Abruzzo (so named as sheep, "pecaro" in Italian, liked grazing on these grapes), and a citrus / orange peel flavoured Falanghina from Puglia. Then owner Eugenio opened a bottle of fresh minerally, biodynamic Gavi. 
With jazz noodling quietly in the background and large black and white pictures of the real East End on the walls (by David Hoffman), it is a pleasant place to while away the time.
You can find Vinarius beyond the Polish Deli and the Eel, Pie and Mash Shop in Roman Road Market:

Vinarius Wine Shop and Bar
536 Roman Road
East London.

Sunday, 7 September 2014


Gatsby took an arm of each of us and moved forward into the restaurant.
Highballs?” asked the head waiter.
“Yes, highballs,” agreed Gatsby. “It’s too hot over there.”
 (from The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald)

"Can't repeat the past? ... Why of course you can!"  We're hoping for a final blaze of summer heat in September, as promised in the forecast, to remind us of July. Back then, we were in straw hats, cool cottons and long, floaty dresses, sipping iced tea and languishing in the shade: so far, so GatsbySo quel horreur to discover that the original Long Island Iced Tea was simply a ruse to fool the FBI during Prohibition - adding Coca Cola to a highball transforms it into something that looks more like iced tea. So no tea, just an illusion.
We've been quaffing industrial quantities of the real stuff all summer, come shine or rain: iced tea with mint and lemon; or a rather racy tropical number with lime and mint, with lemongrass and ginger flavouring.  
For the purposes of research, one could always add a slug or two of gin or vodka to get the real Prohibition buzz. But keep away from the Coke.

Lemon and Mint Iced Tea
The day before:
1   Make  a large jug of tea, normal strength, preferably with loose leaf tea.  Green tea or jasmine tea works especially well (The Canton Tea Company is a good on-line source).  Strain: too long on the leaves will make the tea bitter. Cool, then refrigerate overnight.
2   Boil up some sugar syrup: add a lot of sugar to a small amount of water - this is not about dilution but a delivery mechanism for sweetness.  Once the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat; then cool and refrigerate.
The next day:
3   When ready for iced tea, half-fill a large glass with ice (cubed or crushed) and then add two slices of lemon, quartered, the juice of half a lemon, several sprigs of fresh mint (crushed slightly to release their flavour), and two tbs of chilled sugar syrup.  
4   Stir to mix all the ingredients. Top up with chilled tea, stir again and sip to check the flavour, adding more lemon juice or sugar syrup to adjust.  It may take a bit of tweaking until it is precisely to your taste.

Lemongrass and Lime Iced Tea
Follow the recipe above.
However, once the sugar syrup is ready and off the heat, add some star anise, finely chopped ginger, and crushed lemon grass, and leave it to infuse.  Strain before use.
In the glass, use lime juice and slices, rather than lemon, to construct the drink.
Add a lemon grass stem to the glass to stir.
A tot of rum, rather than vodka or gin, would work well here!

Sunday, 29 June 2014


Rhubarb is saccharine pink, the colour of those softly chewy sweets you can still find in old-fashioned confectionery jars, so sugar-rich they bring on a headache; in reality, though, raw rhubarb is coarse and sharp, so crisply sour in hurts.
Elderflowers form delicate galaxies of tiny stars which hang heavily from green stems of elder, gently perfuming the air with their heady scent.  What you see (and smell and taste) is what you get.
Strange bedfellows these two.  Yet mix them together with gin, sugar and lemon juice and a mysterious alchemy takes place.  Wait a few weeks and a shiny golden-pink, sweetly floral liquor develops, as if by magic. You can discard the now brown and dull mangle of elderflower and rhubarb waste.
Macerate the rhubarb              Place the elderflower in the jar           Mix with sugar and gin
i)   Slice 12 sticks of cleaned pink rhubarb into 5cm lengths, and stir in 50g white sugar, leaving it to macerate for an hour.
ii)   Collect 15 or so fresh, white elderflower heads (no brown or wilted flowers). Tap them to knock out ants and bugs (rinsing washes out the flavour); cut away leaves and larger stalks; then place the elderflowers in a sterilised, airtight jar.
iii)   Add the macerated rhubarb and sugar (+ all the juices) to the jar. Add 2 tbs of extra sugar and juice of a lemon, and cover with 1litre of gin.
iv)   Seal and shake.
v)    Store in a cool, dark place for two weeks, shaking every other day.
vi)   Strain the liquid carefully, using a coffee filter or similar (there may be a sediment at the bottom which will otherwise cloud the eventual liquor); bottle and keep in a cool, dark place.  
It is ready for use now, but goes on improving with time. A twist on the classic G and T is an easy way forward, but the colour and complex flavours demand more imaginative uses, in delicate, summery cocktails or long refreshing coolers. Served over ice with lemon juice and soda water works pretty well in tis hot weather, rather like an aperol spritz.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014


Spices for Pho Bo
"Vietnamese people believe good food is a gift to the mouth."  Fresh, top quality ingredients, sharp flavours, and a careful balance of textures and "heating" and "cooling" foods: this is the way to good health. So says Uyen, aka Leluu, food blogger, pioneer of London's supper clubs, cookery book writer and, today, host of our cookery class.
Preparing pork and quail's eggs under Uyen's watchful eye
To show us what she means, Uyen takes us through breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner, all within the space of an afternoon of cooking and eating. She later guides us around a nearby Vietnamese supermarket showing how to source our own future meals.

Pho spices and stock bones
Pho is the iconic dish of Vietnam, and though every family knows that its version is the right one, it is a uniting force: the way the nation starts the day. As the body has "cooled" overnight, it needs this meat based broth to "heat" it to get ready to face the rigours of work.  The key is the creation of a high quality stock, to which is added bean sprouts, plenty of herbs, noodles, thinly sliced chilli and herbs, and slices of beef. Hot, soothing, full of flavour, we slurp our bowls of pho in quiet contemplation of the treats to come.
The Vietnamese are grazers: bustling street food stalls and tiny red stools fill every street and alleyway and are always busy serving quick snacks (pork skewers for example, or banh  mi - stuffed baguettes) to those on the move. Lemongrass beef in betel leaf are bite-sized flavour-packed morsels, and easy to make, but it's a good idea to get the whole family around the table to roll them up.

Lemongrass beef in Betel Leaf and Vietnamese Salad

As another quick snack, Uyen shows us how the prepare the light, herb-infused summer rolls that are ideal for a mouthful of intense flavour on the move through the markets. 
Uyen demonstrates summer rolls
The French influence is very evident in banh xeo (crepe-style wraps).  Fry some prawns and pork belly, add the rice-flour and coconut milk batter with some bean sprouts, and cover.  Fold the crisp pancake and serve with dipping sauce.

Making banh xeo
With our pork and quail's egg stew bubbling away and her mother getting a few more dishes ready for a final feast, Uyen takes us off to the supermarket and gives us a masterclass tour of the enormous range of Vietnamese ingredients available nowadays - many of them grown or made locally.
 Appetites sharpened by all the possibilities we have seen (and with bulging shopping bags), we return to a feast: the pork and quail's egg stew is ready, two fish dishes, winter melon soup with tofu, stir-fried morning glory.

Monday, 5 May 2014


Vanilla, egg, butter, sugar, lemon: these are the aromas that drift around the house as the Ciambellone is baking: it is the smell of Italy.  We were introduced to this cake by the doyenne of Italian supperclubs, Francesca
It is delicious.  And very easy to make.
100g melted butter
150g sugar
2 eggs
2 egg whites
50g tapioca flour (or potato flour)
150g plain flour
1 lemon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence

2 tbsp milk

Heat the oven to 180C. Grease the tin and flour it.
Whisk the melted butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue whisking. Zest the lemons and add the zest to the mixture, and then add the vanilla essence; stir together well.
Whisk the egg whites until firm and set aside. Mix together the plain flour, the potato flour and the baking powder, and sift into the egg mixture and beat together. Add the milk to create a runnier texture.
Using a metal spoon, fold in the beaten egg whites until they are well mixed in. Pour the mixture into the tin. Bake in the oven 25 minutes. When cooked, turn out the cake onto a rack. Dust the top with icing sugar.

If you can, leave it to cool before eating, with an espresso of course (though it goes just as well with tea in the afternoon). Serve with whipped cream or mascarpone and a spoonful of tart gooseberry compote.

Sunday, 2 March 2014


Balloons and bunting
Daffodils and roses are already blooming in Amsterdam's quietly raffish Oude Pijp district (think Shoreditch with canals and bicycles rather than end-to-end traffic and crowds). Our gently aimless Saturday morning stroll past Sarphati Park is suddenly transformed: we have stumbled unexpectedly into the balloons and bunting of Bilder and De Clercq deli's first anniversary party, a celebration of their big new idea.  In business, the first year is when new ideas either wither and die, or put down roots for a robust future: it seems B&dC are well on their way, given the packed, good-natured support in the café and browsing the deli shelves.

The novel food stations
B&dC is not your usual deli: its USP, its new idea, is the "meal station". Across the store are a dozen or so of these separate stations, each dedicated to a particular dish, and each containing a recipe card and all the listed ingredients in appropriate quantities.  A cheerful assistant explains (while she dispenses anniversary snacks): choose your menu and then simply load up the ingredients which are laid out ready at the station and in its mini-freezer - and there are well-matched wines available to reduce decision making even further. Large, colourful images of plated up meals stand above each station to draw your eye and stimulate your culinary imagination - and your appetite. B&dC source as much as possible locally, though their recipe vision is international: Thailand and Indonesia, The Middle East and Singapore are represented in addition to Europe. 

The station for Thai Mussels
Each recipe card is designed for two, though it is easy to multiply up for a feast; it costs between €5 and €7 a head. So if you are in a hurry or haven't planned ahead, the hard part (ie: deciding what to cook and sourcing the ingredients) has already been done. Sounds like a brilliant idea!

Monday, 30 December 2013


In this joyous season of Santa and carolling angels, there comes a time to cut against the grain of general goodwill to mankind. So, these wafer-thin crisp-breads are not afraid of their inner dark side: mis-shapen and generally rather ragged, they are all the more attractive for being rough around the edges in a "Robert Johnson, wrong side of the tracks kinda way." 
Resist the sweetest blandishments of another mince pie or slice of panforte. Match le lingue del diavolo with salty-savoury chunks of parmesan (or a wisp or two of prosciutto-style, smoked reindeer) and let the Devil do the talking.

220g   plain flour
200g   sourdough starter (100% hydration)
100g   plain yoghurt
40g     light olive oil
2 tsp   poppy seeds
a pinch of salt.
Plus olive oil, sea salt flakes, chilli flakes or fennel seeds for scattering on top of the biscuits before cooking.
(Makes 8)

Mix together and knead to a smooth dough. Let the dough stand for a couple of hours in a covered bowl.
Half an hour before you are ready to bake, heat the oven to 200 degree C and place a baking stone on the middle rack.
Knead the dough briefly and divide into eight small balls.
On a floured surface, roll out each ball until very thin and tongue-shaped. Just before baking, brush the surface of each one gently with a tiny amount of olive oil and scatter with salt (or chilli flakes and/or fennel seeds, to taste); then place on the hot baking stone (or a flat baking tray).  Bake for 8 - 10 minutes or until crisp and pale golden brown with darker blotches.  Place the biscuits straight onto a rack and let them cool and crisp up. They can be stored in an air-tight container, but are best eaten fresh while still at peak crispness.