Sunday, 22 April 2012


The Shard (Bermondsey) glimpsed from Leonard Street (Shoreditch)
When you're tired of London you are .... well just tired. Jeez, there's so much going on:  new exhibitions, pop up restaurants, secret cocktail bars, concerts. You plan a maelstrom of activity, then think, "what the hell I'll just put my feet up and watch episodes of Mad Men back to back." But housesitting for a few months in East London means sucking the juice out of the time here, and one of the best ways to do this is just walk.

This easy stroll between two of London's food and fashion hotspots, Hoxton and Shoreditch to South London's Bermondsey Street takes about an hour, though the distractions at each end of the walk will add hours and ... uh quite a few calories... to the day. 

Old Street tube station is a good starting point. Beware: it would be easy to spend the whole day browsing and eating one's way through Shoreditch alone, leaving the rest for another day.

Arrive early early, as Hoxton and Shoreditch are crammed with popular brunch opportunities: The Diner, The Breakfast Club, The Boundary (Albion) Cafe and The Book Club to name but a few.
The Diner 
The Breakfast Club

The Book Club
Or shimmy on down past the BoxPark, under the crossrail and into Spitalfields for the king of carnivorous breakfasts that is Hawksmoor

Brunch over, mosey around Spitalfields market or have your tresses tended at Taylor, Taylor where they serve cocktails in the stylish of interiors. Now head back to the City Road and turn south, heading on to Moorgate, Prince's Street, Lombard Street and King William Street: in effect it is a straight line to London Bridge. 

On the way, there are plenty of diversions.  Shortly after the City Road / Leonard Street junction is Bunhill Fields, an ancient Anglo-Saxon cemetery ("bun-" is probably a corruption of the Saxon word for "bone") now most famous as the last resting place of William Blake, John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe (his Journal of the Plague Year makes good reading for those who choose to relax in this well-tended, green space). On the opposite side of City Road are John Wesley's Chapel and house; this is still a working place of worship and there is also a museum attached. Further on, on Monument Street which runs left from King William Street, you can have a look at (and climb the 311 steps?) the London Monument, memorial to the Great Fire of 1666 (symbolised by the golden flame on top), or stroll along to the aptly named Pudding Lane where it all began, in Thomas Farriner's bakery.

London Bridge going south
Once across London Bridge, there is a choice: head right to Borough Market (on a Friday or Saturday) for some serious foodie shopping, or left (on St Thomas Street) past The Shard to Bermondsey Street. 

Bermondsey Street
 Once on Bermondsey Street, there is plenty of choice: tapas at  Jose (the best in London) or something more substantial at bigger but younger brother Pizarro; or try contemporary Italian at Zucca.  
Jose Pizarro's newer place
Jose - great tapas, day or night
Head off Bermondsey Street on Tanner Street and you will come to the newly flourishing Maltby Street Market  (Saturdays 9:00-2:00 only at the moment, but longer hours are imminent, so check on-line) where Jose Pizarro, among many others, has a stall where you can sit, drink sherry, nibble jamon, watch the passers-by.
Bermondsey Street's recently opened White Cube Gallery, which you will pass as you move from Jose to Pizzaro, is now a major attraction staging cutting edge exhibitions.
Entry to the White Cube
Anselm Keifer at the White Cube
The return journey from London Bridge to Old Street is quick (on foot or by tube), but why not walk along the river to Tower Bridge and then meander back through the City.

Friday, 20 April 2012


Sweet cure brisket and smoked Loch Duart salmon
The New Forest is a posh kind of place.There are lots of well-heeled, well-bred sorts looking for an Egyptian-cotton clad pillow to lay their heads after spending a day strolling through verdant glades. Lime Wood Hotel fulfils all Egyptian cotton aspirations (600 thread and counting) with bells and whistles. Alas, we are not staying here, but we do have lunch in The Scullery. I love the 'Downton Abbey' schtick this implies, but Carson has long since left the building. 
The Scullery

The grounds, conservatory and bar are all fantastic places to while away a few hours, along with a number of discreet drawing rooms.  The hotel also has a health spa, a serious restaurant and a helipad.
The Conservatory

After a chance conversation with one of the staff about the smoked salmon and brisket cured on the premises, we find ourselves being shown the smokehouse by head chef, Luke Holder.

The Smokehouse

This is a kind of rustic, 'Little House in the Prairie' hut where Luke has been experimenting for the last couple of years with legs of pork, making Pata Negra style ham (he imported one from Spain to "infect" his native pork with the right kind of mould). These take around 14 months to cure, and hang from poles either side of the smoker, surrounded by racks of red-wine steeped bresaola, brisket, chorizo and salami.   
Brisket, copa, cured pork fillet
The smoke chamber, empty just now, is ready to hold salmon  sourced directly from Loch Duart. The result is a far cry from the slippery, wafer-thin slices that stick to the palate - his is cut thickly and robustly flavoured. 

Luke is pretty honest about the pitfalls of curing. A rogue fly can spoil months of work, a fire in the smokehouse destroy many sides of salmon and half the building. However, he is a man with a mission, reflecting that The British Empire was founded on sending fleets of men with enough dried and cured provisions to quell the natives and erect the Union Jack on foreign lands (I did say this place was like Downton Abbey). We have lost those old  skills, unlike the Italians and Spanish who have built multi-million pound businesses from Parma Ham, Serrano, Pata Negra and salami. In the same way as British beer, bread and cheese have been transformed, Luke envisions a brave new world in which a British artisan charcuterie tradition can take its place on an equal footing with the giants of Europe.  
Hampshire Chorizo and Bresaola
To this end, in addition to his own efforts at Lime Wood, he is working to persuade the local meat suppliers to pool their offcuts in a co-operative to make Hampshire sausages (beef, pork, lamb) in much the same way as the French and Germans do with their grapes. 

Leaving the smokehouse with some troubleshooting tips for home bacon curing we repair to the drawing room and ring for tea... Carson is a long time coming.   
Lime Wood Hotel, New Forest

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


Sourdough pizzas are quick and easy to make. They have a crisp, chewy texture well-suited to pizzas, especially for moister toppings such as this leek and labneh mixture. Leeks fried slowly in olive oil become softly supple, with a sweetness that combines and contrasts so well with the sour, creamy labneh (see below for more on labneh, which is available in Middle Eastern shops; substitute with ricotta or mozzarella if preferred). 

First, begin the sourdough pizza base.  Prepare this in the morning, leave it in a warm place to rise, and it will be ready in the evening for cooking.

Combine all the pizza ingredients to form a very moist dough. 

250g    plain white flour
150g    sourdough starter (50% flour, 50% water)
1          beaten egg
70g      runny yoghurt
20g      olive oil
5g        sugar
5g        salt

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead for at least ten minutes; it is quite wet and sticky initially, but will get smoother as the gluten develops.  Return the dough to an oiled bowl with plenty of room for expansion, as it is very vigorous, cover and leave in a warm place for at least six hours or until needed.

An hour or so before you wish to eat, turn on the oven to a high heat: 250 degrees (or 500 degrees F, Gas Mark 10).  Place a baking tray or cloche into the oven to heat.  This amount of dough makes two 25cm pizzas.
6         large leeks
2tbs    olive oil 
1tsp    salt 
200g   labneh 
Now prepare the leeks. Wash them thoroughly and cut into  coins (not too thick; keep plenty of green leaf as well as the white stems). The leeks should be softened gently in olive oil over a very low heat; stir frequently to avoid burning or browning.  
Only add the salt at the end of the cooking time to prevent the leeks becoming mushy and colourless. This should take 20 - 30 minutes, but may take longer.

Knock the pizza dough down.  Divide the mixture in half and turn out the first half onto a well floured surface, adding more flour on top of the dough.  Gently shape it into a round and place it on the heated tray.  Spread half the cooked leeks across the surface of the pizza and than plop teaspoonfuls  of labneh on top of the leeks.  
Bake for 20 - 30 minutes or until the base is crusty and brown.  Eat while still hot or warm.

Labneh (or labne) is a Middle Eastern salted, strained yoghurt with the sourness of yoghurt, but more like cream cheese in texture.  The word labneh meaning "white" is from the same root as the name for Lebanon. Unlike other cheeses, it doesn't melt when baked, which suits this particular pizza.

Saturday, 14 April 2012


A "Bhangra Burger" wrap
At first, Eat Street might feel a tad ersatz in its new, squeaky clean setting in the shadow of King's Cross Station and the St Pancras Hotel.  It's all a bit manicured, lacking that rough-and-ready, against-all-the-odds feel of street food in many parts of the world. All that disappears once you get up close, picking up wafting smells and murmurs of anticipation from the queues that stretch from each stall.

Two years on and it's the Eat Street collective's first weekend opening, timed to coincide with the Guardian's Open Weekend at nearby Kings Place.  There's a real weekend vibe too, happy eaters turning to face the sun as they chew and slurp through their Eat Street offerings.
Of the seven stalls booked in, one hasn't made it and a second (Yum Bun steamed Chinese buns) runs out the instant we arrive.  We go instead for Indian wraps (see lead picture) from Bhangra Burger: dense meaty burgers accompanied by various masalas and fresh, lime chutney together with lettuce and a yoghurt sauce - dribbly to eat and delicious.  
This is followed by Tom Yum noodle soup and blackbean beef skewers from the Hardcore Prawn: fresh, zesty flavours with quite a kick - just as dribbly and good, but in a different way. 
More mouth-manageable are the authentic, thin-crust Homeslice Pizzas, burning hot (be warned) from their ingenious mobile pizza oven.

That does for us, but still leaves plenty untasted and tempting, including cassoulet from The Red Herring Smokery, or  rolls filled with slow-cooked ox cheek or tongue from Tongue 'n Cheek.
Cassoulet from the Red Herring Smokery

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


What do you know?  The discerning people at the Love the Garden blog along with Niamh (Eat Like a Girl) Shields chose our carrot halva recipe to win their carrot recipe competition. And the prize is a meal at the restaurant of our choice. Where do we go? Angela Hartnett's Murano. This is how it went...

Murano is in Mayfair. Its understated interior panders to the locals' penchant for taking their pleasures in places designed in a Mogadon-induced trance: the beiges, taupes and deadening plushness would give any airline business lounge a run for its money. As there's no real bar for pre-prandial cocktails, we settle at our table, and yes, feel apprehensive. 

But we soon discover the nice thing about Murano: it's run by women, and, god, what a refreshing difference. They are warm, knowledgeable and laid back about protocol, "no you don't both have to have the tasting menu; you can even mix and match - just do what you like."  In fact, these women are how I imagine Angela Hartnett: warm, friendly, professional and unstuffy.  

We both choose the tasting menu and discover that this same ethos of simplicity and single-mindedness produces seven excellent dishes, which I won't bore you about......well, ok maybe just a bit.  The gnocchi with truffles to start is soothing and intense; the salad of artichokes and pinenuts enlivened with subtle flecks of lemon zest is a triumph of taste and texture; pollack with speck and clams precedes an unctious pork belly, its sweetness heightened  by a quince puree. Here we pause for breath. 

The sommelier, with a reassuringly incomprehensible French accent, is the only man we have encountered so far. He has some good common sense advice asking us firstly how much we like to drink (ahem) and making suggestions that chime perfectly with the varied courses, including the slab of gorgonzola that preempts the caramel souffle. This almost does for us: intensely sweet offset by a caramel bitterness, pillowy and ultimately and tragically unfinishable. 

A chat with the maitre d', a pot of fresh mint and we stagger into the quiet streets at around midnight.