Our weekly food diary shares on-trend ingredients, fun foodie events, Instagrammable restaurant dishes and must-try street eats.
This week we tried...
We may have died and gone to carb heaven, otherwise known as Buns & Buns, Covent Garden’s newest restaurant. Set up by Alex Zibi, it began life in Miami three years ago, with a simple concept: bread. Alex took inspiration from his travels, with every country he visited having a special take on it, from the baguette of his home country, France, to the warm, cheesy pão de queijo of Brazil. Both are on the menu at Buns & Buns, along with many others. There are seriously fluffy Taiwanese bao buns with a choice of three delicious fillings, a lobster brioche roll served with addictive shoestring fries, and this carbonara pizza. Inspired by the classic Italian pasta sauce, it marries eggs, pancetta and pecorino with cloud-like pizza dough to form an oozy, eggy, cheesy pizza. Drool.
World’s best cheese
We’re tempted to go into cheese pun overdrive as we bring you news of fanaost, named World Champion at this year’s World Cheese Awards. From Norwegian producer Ostegården, it’s an aged gouda, reminiscent (according to our cheese-obsessed magazines editor) of an old amsterdam. It’s very gouda! No, seriously though... It's firm and brittle, with a sweet, almost caramel flavour – and remarkably, it’s produced by a cheesemaker with only 12 cows. Jørn Hafslund’s winning cheese is matured for 14 months and beat a record-breaking 3,472 entries in a blind-tasting at the 31st awards, which took place last month at Bergen’s iconic Grieg Hall. Judge Jason Hinds of Neal’s Yard Dairy, said: ‘This was a refreshing thing to taste with none of the confected sweetness that can sometimes be prevalent in this style of cheese. I was looking for terroir and this cheese really delivers a sense of place with a great texture and wonderful marriage of sweet and savoury notes.’
Raw sliced mushrooms
Once the scourge of the salad bar, we’ve been seeing gossamer thin slices of raw button mushrooms crop up on several high-end dishes recently, including at the Hand & Flowers, where they’re drizzled with oil and lined up on a crispy brioche crouton, accompanying mushroom & tarragon soup. At Peel’s restaurant, near Birmingham, it adorns this beef main. Part of a special chef’s supper club that took place last weekend at the BBC Good Food show, the dish was cooked by Michel Roux Jr. Rich winter fare, the beef fillet also came with spinach purée and a savoury bone marrow bread pudding cooked in wagyu fat. This was topped with the sliced raw mushrooms, which added an earthiness that was more pronounced (yet subtle) than would have been the case if cooked. They’re wonderful to eat lightly oiled and seasoned, and an easy garnish to create at home, if you want to get cheffy.
Last week we tried...
Can’t make it to the slopes this year? It’s now easier than ever to get a taste of the Alps right here. We’re not talking about snow and blue runs though – everyone knows the best part of skiing is the food. Hot, comforting, and usually involving cheese. We’ve noticed a number of alpine themed street food pop-ups and restaurants crop up this winter. This week, we’ve been at Orrery restaurant in Marylebone, where, from 15 November until 31 January, the terrace has been decked out with fir trees, pine cones and plenty of warm blankets for guests to enjoy a special alpine menu. This sirloin steak main is served with a madeira jus, pomme cocotte (potato cooked in lots of butter, herbs and garlic), and served with a super cheesy fondue sauce for dipping. Other cosy classics on the menu include baked apples with vanilla ice cream for dessert and a hot toddy drink.
Mince pie naan bread
Yes, you read that right. A creation by Indian restaurant Cinnamon Bazaar in London’s Covent Garden, this limited-edition festive spin on the classic naan bread is on the menu there until the end of December. The naan is stuffed with mincemeat made from dried fruits, nuts and spices which have been marinated for six months in dark rum, brandy and red wine. Along with the usual festive spices like cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, there are plenty of Indian spices in the mix too – garam masala, cardamom, fennel, coriander, cumin, peppercorns, mace, bay leaf and star anise. The mincemeat is crammed into a naan dough and cooked in the tandoor, then brushed with a butter, honey and cinnamon glaze. The result is a fragrant, festive naan, a warming treat that’s great served as dessert with cinnamon ice cream piled on top.
It’s game season and one of our favourite dishes on this theme this year has been the game pithivier with quince at Southside Scran, Bruntsfield, Edinburgh, the newest venue from chef Tom Kitchin. Tom is an advocate of using local, seasonal ingredients and has a passion for French cuisine – this dinky little pithivier with its crisp burnished pastry, sweet quince and glorious gravy is a perfect example. Southside Scran is a sibling of the Scran & Scallie in the north of Edinburgh and bills itself as a neighbourhood bistro. The menu has two sorts of dishes – 'comforts' such as very fine fish and chips, Shetland mussels and a wagyu burger, and on the rôtiserrie (which also dominates one end of the dining room), you'll find more rarefied grass-fed Highland wagyu tail with shallots & parsley (serves two and comes with teeny tacos) and hand-dived Orkney scallops with herb butter.
Earlier this month we tried...
Planning a trip to Hamburg? For a taste of something local, head to Rindermarkthalle, a huge foodie market full of shops, stalls, restaurants and cafes, including Vonmetzgers – a butcher-cum-restaurant, where we tried this labskaus. A traditional German dish, labskaus is a mix of salted or corned beef (or salted pork), mashed together with potatoes, onion and pickled beetroot (which gives it its pink hue). It’s usually accompanied by a rolled salted herring, pickles and topped with a fried egg. The dish was created long ago by sailors, using ingredients that would last on their ships without refrigeration – salted meats, potatoes, pickles, eggs – mashed together to create something appetising. Here, the traditional dish is elevated, using high-quality meat and topping with a fried quail's egg.
Mars bar pancakes
Here’s three words guaranteed to get anyone with a sweet tooth salivating: Mars Bar pancakes. In fact, it seems a sure-fire way to grab people’s interest on a sweet menu is to sneak one of the nation’s favourite chocolate bars into a dish. You only have to look at the popularity of recipes like our Ferrero Rocher hazelnut brownies, Mars Bar galaxy cake and Malteser-studded Millionarie’s chocolate bombe for proof. We had this mammoth pancake stack at Josie’s in Petersfield – two thick but surprisingly light and fluffy pancakes with an ice cream cone stuffed into the centre, filled with creamy vanilla ice-cream before the whole thing is drenched in a Mars Bar sauce. Need we say more?
Caramel & apple pie
Thanksgiving might be an American holiday but increasing numbers of restaurants, bakeries and cafes in the UK have started creating US-inspired menus, events and special bakes each year in a nod to the occasion. This year, we celebrated with three epic pies by pastry king Dominique Ansel (of cronut fame), including a gooey bourbon pecan pie, a super silky pumpkin pie, and this warm salted caramel apple pie, made with chunky apple pieces and sweet-salty pools of caramel in a buttery pastry crust. Are you drooling yet? If you can’t make it to Dominique’s London bakery, try one of our American-inspired pies – pecan, pumpkin or apple, or for a full feast, check out our Thanksgiving collection.
Earlier this month we tried...
Whisky with a twist
Reading this with a winter cold? This is sure to warm your cockles. This week we tried the new range of small-batch liqueurs from Marvolio’s Nostrums. Whisky continues to grow as a trend thanks, in part, to people like Joel Gallagher, founder of Marvolio's. Joel is making whisky more accessible by combining it with other ingredients like Arabica coffee (in his smooth Whiskoffy) and ginger in this fiery Whinger (left). The result is a range of drinks that stay true to the flavour of whisky but are far more quaffable than drinking it neat. Ideal for this time of year, Whinger combines a serious hit of warming whisky with punchy ginger, resulting in an almost medicinal, hot-toddy-style drink. If you’re struggling through the winter, try sipping on some Whinger.
Food on sticks
Whether it’s Turkish kofte, Japanese yakitori, Greek souvalaki or Italian arrosticini, right now we’re seeing a lot of food (more specifically, meat and seafood) on sticks. This week we tried these 'hot sticks' at new restaurant Hicce, founded by Pip Lacey (ex Murano chef and winner of BBC Two’s 2017 Great British Menu) and Gordy McIntyre (previously of the Conran restaurant group) in Coal Drops Yard, King's Cross. These sweet, succulent wild red prawns are skewered and scorched on the grill, then served swimming in seaweed butter. Equally delicious are the flavour-packed grilled chicken thighs with spicy shisho and crispy chicken skin (also on a stick). And it’s not just Hicce making a big deal of their #hiccehotsticks – new Iranian restaurant Berenjak has a list of small kebabs on the menu and izakaya bar Jidori has a whole yakitori menu section.
This week we’re not just eating, we're buying! We’ve noticed a huge trend for food- and drink-themed Christmas tree decorations this year and we can’t get enough. From fruit and veg to beer, just name a food or drink and you’ll most likely find it in bauble form. Don't believe us? We’ve seen avocados, aubergines and pineapples at Paperchase; Swiss cheese, cocoa and croissants at The Conran Shop; carrots and Amalfi lemons at Petersham Nurseries; and apples, figs and pomegranates at John Lewis & Partners. Those with expensive taste might be tempted by caviar from the National Theatre bookshop or champagne from Selfridges. Still wanting more? Take a look at our top 10 foodie baubles for Christmas 2018.
Earlier this month we tried...
The use of savoury ingredients in sorbets and ice creams isn’t a new trend, but seeing horseradish sorbet on a menu as a starter was a first for us. We tried this dish of cured seabass with cucumber relish and horseradish sorbet as part of a 10-course tasting menu at Heaneys in Cardiff – the new restaurant from chef Tommy Heaney, who shot to fame after appearing on BBC’s Great British Menu. An impressively well-balanced mix of flavours, textures and temperatures, thin slices of delicate cured seabass are paired with a refreshing cucumber relish to cut through the full-bodied, mustard flavours of the horseradish sorbet. Add to that a crunchy hazelnut topping and inky pools of dill oil and you’ve got a real stand-out starter.
Another week, another street-food favourite undergoes the vegan treatment. This time it’s the turn of Canadian classic, poutine. Arguably one of the world’s ultimate comfort foods, poutine is a dish from Québec, Canada, which takes French fries, tops them with cheese curds and then covers the whole lot in gravy. This week, we’ve been at Biff’s Jack Shack, self-professed purveyor of ‘filthy vegan junk food’ in Boxpark, Shoreditch. Here you’ll find flavour-packed, vegan-friendly wings, burgers and chilli, but it was this poutine that caught our attention, having not seen a vegan version before. The verdict? Super-saucy, well-seasoned and all-round delicious – the fries are topped with vegan ‘cheeze curds’ (made using coconut oil), seitan ‘bacon’ and an umami-rich porcini mushroom gravy. A must-try, vegan or not.
National Fry Up Day
Did you know it was National Fry Up Day last Sunday? Never one to ignore an excuse to eat, we headed down to MEATliquor in London’s Kings Cross to join their Great British Fry Up, touted as ‘the best fry up you’ve ever tasted’. Cooked up by David Rowland and Ben Hesketh of The Fry Up Police along with 2017 MasterChef runner up Steve Kielty, the focus was on independent UK suppliers – including sausages from family-led Powters, black pudding from the Fruit Pig Butchery and Cacklebean eggs from the Cotswolds. Along with A LOT of tea, we managed to put away the full plate, but it was a challenge for even the most seasoned fry-up fan…
Earlier this month we tried...
Here's an answer to that 'what to have for lunch' dilemma. They look similar to Hawaiian poke bowls – both involve raw fish and various toppings over rice – but while poke uses ingredients from a range of cuisines (including Japanese), the chirashi bowl is strictly Japanese. Chirashi translates as 'scattered', referring to how slices of raw fish are presented over sushi rice in a special chirashi bowl. We tried this one at brand-new Omoide in Bermondsey, London, with yuzu ponzu salmon, cured cucumber, sushi ginger, goma wakame (seaweed salad), pickles and crispy shallots. Omoide chef-founder Angelo Sato is from Tokyo and wanted to make his favourite elements of Japanese cuisine accessible in the UK. Omoide also specialises in dashi, a Japanese broth that's made daily and comes with udon noodles – a comfort in cold weather. We’ve also seen chirashi bowls at Chirashi in London’s Old Spitalfields Market, Oshio in Brighton and Wasabi stores across the country.
Hosting a Halloween party this weekend? Up your cocktail game with spookily good concoctions by Guy Mazuch, head bartender at boutique hotel and cocktail lounge Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell, London. We love the vampiro, an amped up version of a Bloody Mary in which Guy has swapped the traditional vodka for tequila and mescal and dressed the glass up for the occasion with a veil of smoked sea salt. For something simpler, the nosferanti is a ghoulish twist on a classic martini, decorated with fake blood. Or, for a revamp of the old-fashioned, Guy has used candy corn (bright orange, striped sweets traditionally eaten in the US at Halloween) in place of the classic sugar gomme in his candy corn old-fashioned.
Bento box brunch
Forget eggs on toast – brunch has exploded as a trend and there's no limit to what you can feast on. The Pan-Asian 'bruncho box' is the latest exciting option, created by chef Scott Hallsworth at Soho’s Freak Scene. It’s inspired by bento boxes (Japanese lunchboxes usually made up of meat or fish, and rice), but like the dishes on the main menu, the elements of the bruncho box aren’t limited to Japanese cuisine – they take inspiration from all over Asia. There's super-crunchy Singapore fried chicken served in a lettuce cup with sushi rice and Korean kimchi or succulent lamb chop marinated in spicy Korean miso then tea-smoked. Crispy Jerusalem artichoke 'chopsticks' come with a zingy Japanese ponzu and truffle sauce.
Mille crêpe cake
We have reached the peak of pancake art! Mille crêpes are having a moment in the patisserie world, made up of many layers of the thinnest crêpes and flavoured pastry cream, or dairy cream, to create a delicate yet decadent cake that is carefully sliced to reveal its structure. Japanese patisserie Kova in Soho, Sakurado in Kensington and Menagerie in Manchester are renowned for their Grinch-green matcha versions, but newly opened Mille in Paddington is the first dedicated mille crêpe emporium, with eight flavours on offer. We especially love the lemon, passionfruit and chocolate flavours though purists may prefer the bitter edge of the traditional matcha. The joy of eating these cakes comes not just in the taste but also the feel of gliding your fork through the whisper-thin layers.