In July we tried…
The trend for flavoured butters has never been more successful than in this slip sole dish at Noble Rot in Bloomsbury. The ‘slip’ in this case meaning small, think Dover sole in miniature form. This starter, served on the bone, has to be one of the most satisfying dishes we’ve ever eaten as the tender meat comes away so easily, leaving a Tom and Jerry-style skeleton on your plate. Slathered in a vivid smoked butter spiked with paprika, it’s as delicious as it is beautiful.
Wight Mermaids gin
Small-batch gin goes from strength to strength as a trend, and our latest find is Wight Mermaids from the Isle of Wight. Flavoured with locally grown Boadicea hops, rock samphire from Steephill Cove, coriander, grains of paradise and lemon, Mermaids is distilled in small batches at the only distillery ever to be licensed on the island. For a classic pour it is served with a sprig of samphire and a twist of cucumber but the peppery notes also lend themselves to slices of fresh green apple. Visit the Dell Café at Puckpool Sands and try it while watching the sunset, or if you aren’t going to the island any time soon you can buy it online and drink it at a sunset of your choosing.
Boasting a huge variety of health benefits, from high protein and mineral contents, to anti-inflammatory properties, seaweed is appearing on our plates more and more, and not just in sushi. This week alone we tried out a 100% wild organic seaweed pasta from Seamore in our Test Kitchen as well as sausages with Irish Dulse from Dee’s Wholefoods, which were quickly snaffled by the vegans (and some non-vegans) in our office. So we weren’t surprised that it was the first thing we spotted on the menu at ‘British-centric brasserie’ Mustard in West London, churned through butter and served with fresh poppy seed bloomer.
We tried Philly-style cannolis earlier this month, and this week we sampled the original Sicilian speciality. We’ve been seeing more cannolis crop up on menus across London, including at Rotorino and Osteria Basilico, as well as the previously mentioned Liberty Cheesesteak, but we’re pleased to report that they’ve now gone mobile. Casa Cannoli sell their hand-crafted pastries at markets across the capital. The outer shell is a little like a brandy snap, set to form a tube in which to pipe fresh ricotta cheese. As well as the traditional cannoli with a stud of candied fruit at each end, Casa Cannoli serve hazelnut, pistachio, chocolate chip and salted caramel variations, all dusted with icing sugar to offset the slight tang of the ricotta. The delicately balanced flavour combinations matched with the satisfying crunch of the shell and soft centre make cannolis our new favourite portable pud.
Beef & barley buns
Some combinations are good whatever the weather: even in sweltering heat these beef and barley buns are incredibly moreish. At a dinner at St John Bread and Wine cooked by chefs who’ve worked at Fifteen and St John’s we tried these little beauties by chef Jon Rotheram, who now serves them at his pub The Marksman. The sweetish bun is filled with beef, sprinkled with grated horseradish and dipped into a horseradish cream. Secret ingredients? Pickled walnuts and star anise.
South Tyrol cuisine
It’s been a long, dreamy week working our way around the food highlights of beautiful South Tyrol. This visually dramatic area holds the most Michelin stars of any region in Italy, and from rustic mountain huts to luxurious hotel restaurants, there is an honest quality to the food. We were invited to the kitchen of the two Michelin starred St Hubertus restaurant headed up by Norbert Niederkofler, where we dined on dishes from the 20-course tasting menu. Wild herb salad with tomato water, wasabi risotto with gently smoked eel, and marinated pike with beetroot crème fraîche and an infusion of mountain herb tea (pictured) were just a few of the highlights. Nestled closely to its Austrian neighbours, South Tyrol cuisine differs from classic Italian food and is strongly influenced by the surrounding mountains. We waited out a storm in a simple hut high up in the Dolomites, feasting on earthy beetroot dumplings with horseradish, apple strudel and good strong coffee – as far as we were concerned it could have gone on forever.
Everyone loves batter in all its glorious forms at the moment – each week thousands of you visit our pancake and Yorkshire pudding recipes, and we’re betting that if more people owned a waffle iron, waffles would be up there too. This week we tested a new hob-top stick waffle iron made by Nordic Ware with a few of our favourite recipes and it worked like a dream. A sugar-free batter makes a waffle that can be savoury (add a few snipped herbs if you like) or sweet once drenched in syrup or chocolate. Stick waffles also make great dippers if you happen to be entertaining. Batter-based finger food, what’s not to like?
We’ve had dauphinoise, we’ve had boulangère – now we’re welcoming domino potatoes into our spud-loving arms. We sampled these thinly sliced, neatly packed rows of potatoes in a super buttery liquor at Sardine, a Southern French restaurant in East London with Alex Jackson and Stevie Parle at the helm. The restaurant is all about classic French flavours done well – we had an epic niçoise, rustic stuffed tomato with pork and veal, and red mullet en papiotte with mussels and courgettes. Super seasonal, super regional, and one of a mini tide of small French restaurants opening in London including Petit Pois Bistro and Casse Croute.
Lavender ice cream
For just four dates this year Castle Farm in Shoreham, Kent, opens its fields up to picnickers who can enjoy the amazing colours and aromas of its lavender fields in full bloom. Pack your own picnic and pick up extra treats such as lavender shortbread, honey, teas and chocolates from the farm shop. The best bit? Eating ice-cream delicately laced with Castle’s lavender essence and milk from Willetts Farm in East Sussex on a picnic rug in the fields. If you’re keen, you’d best move quick: the last dates are Friday 15 and Saturday 16 July.
Drink chocolate without the calories? That’s what we did this week at Hotel Chocolat HQ. Their new cocoa-infused range, cleverly named ‘teaolat’, features herbal and black teas for the true chocolate lover. We loved ‘invigorate’, made from roasted cocoa shells and with warming, sun-dried ginger to add plenty of heat to the intense and aromatic chocolate base. The more adventurous among us can fill their mugs with ‘spice’, a fiery and smoky combination of cinnamon, cloves, chillies, and of course, cocoa. Think mocha meets chai, minus the milk. The six flavours of ‘teaolat’ will be available next month from Hotel Chocolat stores.
Restaurants that serve one or two main ingredients or styles of cooking are on the up, and not just food trucks, these are bricks and mortar establishments. Joining the ‘well sourced’ and ‘artisan’ burger and pizza venues there are several Burger & Lobster branches, including Manchester and Cardiff, Bao (steamed Taiwanese buns) has recently opened a third branch and a restaurant basing its menu around turkey (it’s a healthy meat, people) called Strut and Cluck has just landed a permanent base in London’s Shoreditch. Further East, in the newest part of the Queen Elizabeth (ex-Olympic) Park is Randy’s Wing Bar where great cocktails, good beer and a canalside setting are made even better with a bucket or two of chicken wings sourced from a Norfolk farm. As well as classic buffalo wings with truffled blue cheese, there’s ‘Gangnam’ (Korean, sweet and sticky), and these beer-battered and fried ‘Hanoi’ wings pepped up with fish sauce and scattered with chilli and herbs. This is a meal that requires finger licking, bone gnawing and napkins. Think leisurely lunch or dinner with friends rather than first date. Wings are £7.50, burgers (chicken, of course) £8.50, plus there’s a veggie burger made with an onion bhaji (£7.50).
Cream & chocolate chip cannoli
Cannoli are tubes of crispy, fried pastry with a sweet and creamy filling. Originating in Sicily, we tried some with an American twist at Liberty Cheesesteak in Spitalfields Market, the filling piped then and there (in authentic Philly fashion) to ensure fresh, crisp pastry. For the main event, customers are encouraged to try a little Philadelphia-speak by ordering their cheesesteak size (whole or half), picking a cheese (Wiz, Provolone or American) and deciding if they want onions – it’s ‘wit’ if you do, ‘witout’ if you don’t. Always keen on authenticity, we dutifully ordered a ‘Whole Wiz Wit’ and tucked in with abandon.
Can’t decide between pudding or cheese? Dilemma solved – this is both. Knafeh, on the dessert menu at newly-opened The Barbary, has a soft cheese centre, a mix of goat’s and mozzarella encased in a vermicelli nest and then doused in syrup and sprinkled with pistachios. It’s a traditional dessert across the Barbary Coast region – although names and sometimes fillings vary. We predict that this perfect post-dinner treat is set to soar in popularity, having sampled a similar dish last week by Selin Kiazin of Oklava at a particularly special supper club – scroll down to read about it in last week’s diary.
G&T with a twist
Slice of lemon? No thanks. Lime? Forget it. The new way to garnish your G&T is to choose one of the botanicals in the gin you’re drinking and add this instead. It works particularly well with herbs, as seen in this Mediterannean combination at the Gin Mare rooftop pop up this week – a sprig of rosemary enhances the herbs in this Med-inspired gin, as would thyme or basil. The aroma floods the glass and fills your nose as you sip it – go for a copa or balloon glass to maximize the effect. For more G&T inspiration, try out top 10 gin and tonics with a twist.
Christmas in July
It may be July, but in the world of food the countdown to Christmas has already begun. We’ve been tasting the new trends at the big stores’ Christmas previews – from frangipane mince pies to bourbon-glazed hams, truffled cheeses, surprise-centre puddings and more street food-inspired canapés than you can shake a cocktail stick at. One thing that remains a festive fixture is the Brussels sprout – loved and hated in equal measure. Sainsbury’s is introducing red Brussels, grown in Scotland, while Lakeland has gone sprout-tastic with napkins, party poppers and these super-fun glasses – modelled by our food editors Barney and Cassie.
Experts have been anticipating that we’ll be eating insects as a sustainable source of protein for years, but despite Denmark’s Noma paving the way with aplomb, we’re yet to see critters popping up on mainstream menus. Exciting, then, that Birmingham-based restaurant The Wilderness has introduced them into a starter, cleverly named ‘The ants got to the tart first’. Balancing the sweet crème brulee topping with a beautiful buttery pastry is the savoury cheese curd filling with a layer of caramelized red onion jam. A line of ants provides a lemony tartness to cut through the sweetness of the tart. Don’t knock it till you try it.
Savoury doughnuts are big right now, thanks to the trailblazing Chiltern Firehouse. This week we gorged on a cheese and truffle version at the launch party of The Frog. The technically brilliant chef, Adam Handling, brings his big-flavoured small plates concept to his new casual dining restaurant and bar The Frog. Adam works off clever flavour pairings and unusual ingredients to deliver food with a great deal of depth and balance.
In 2001 Peter Gordon opened The Providores and Tapa room in London’s Marylebone, starting up an incubator for the fusion chefs of today. Peter’s the kind of inspirational chef who can count on his alumni, Anna Hansen (The Modern Pantry), Hamish Brown (ROKA) and Mile Kirby (Caravan) among them, to turn up to a party to cook glorious food woven through with the ingredients and flavours they’d used in Peter’s fusion kitchen. Dishes included tripe tacos by Brad Farmerie who had flown in from PUBLIC in New York, while Paul Melville (the current Providores chef) served seabass ceviche with kaffir lime and coconut gazacho. Peter offered scallops with sweet chilli and crème fraiche, freelance chef Karl Calvert brought popcorn rice pudding with maple miso caramel and this kunefe, poached peach, fennel seed ice cream and verjus syrup is by Selin Kiazin of Oklava.
Missed the last food diary? Find out what we ate last month, or visit our 12 month compilation to get fully up to speed…
What we ate in June
What we ate in May
What we ate in April