28 November 2014

Pizza Pilgrims - Kingly Court

I confess, again(!), that as much as I love cooking Italian food at home (like my Spanish-Italian fusion Pasta de Señorita), I am not a fan of eating at Italian style restaurants in the UK. This could be because as teenagers we overindulged in eating at pizza and pasta chains because they were affordable on a Saturday jobs salary (I was the butcher girl), but I think it's most likely because some places think that smothering an overly salty dish in cheese and tomatoes will be delicious. It's often not, but I digress. 

I'm here to talk about a pizza place whose pizzas make me want to learn Italian, fly to Rome and dance in the Trevi Fountain (would I be arrested for this activity?) while eating gelato. Or have a nap because I've eaten too much, but that's not as romantic. Pizza Pilgrims crafts gorgeous soft sourdough pizzas on the premises with real Italian ingredients at three different locations Kingly Court, Dean Street and, then the moveable one, the van! 

Oppositely, my friend Louise loves pizza. More than anything. So when she came back from Dubai for a stint about a month ago we spent the whole day doing what we used to do when she lived in London. Eat. And visit markets, what do you take us for greedy girls? You'd be halfway right. 

We ate a lot of food that day, including brownies at Konditor and Cook opposite Borough Market, vegetarian dinner for three at the Bonnington Cafe in Vauxhall and pizza at Pizza Pilgrims in Kingly Court. I spend a lot of time eating at Kingly Court. 

Outside Pizza Pilgrims in Kingly Court tables spill out onto the street, giving you a chance to eye up what you're going to order before you step inside. Walking into white walls, mismatched wooden furniture and green wooden trim there are trademarked green checker tablecloths and huge 1990s carton prints on the walls, it's a cool relaxed space to chill out in with friends. Downstairs you can grab a drink at the bar. But upstairs is where the magic happens, a huge pizza oven built in with an open kitchen allows you to watch your food slowly go from preparation to cremation. I jest the pizzas are soft and doughy with a good crisp crust not a burnt edge in sight. 

The menu is simple, something I enjoy as they don't spread themselves too thinly. As we had dinner plans at the Bonnington Cafe later on we went for shared the guest pizza Zola and a couple of arancini rosso. Don't be deceived in thinking this isn't a lot of food, we were stuffed!

The deep-fried Arancini Rosso balls with tomatoes and smoked mozarella were crispy on the outside, warm and gooey in the middle with strings of mozarella oozing out with each bite. They were so moreish I could have eaten all three.. If we weren't sharing.

The Zola was my first ever blanco pizza. With grilled artichokes, Gorgonzola, mozzarella and a handful of rocket, this pizza is extravagantly cheesy. I loved it and I'm normally not a huge fan of Gorgonzola, I mean I'm a big blue cheese fan but it's one blue I'd normally turn my back on. Unfortunately this was only a guest pizza but if you turn up and see it on the menu order it at once, you won't be disappointed. 

If you think my strong dislike of Italian restaurants is unfounded and have some suggestions on where to go drop me a comment, I'm prepared to eat my words. 

I'm limbering up as I write this, by eating a pizza.

24 November 2014

Truc Vert, Mayfair, London

A relaxed evening of good food and good company is what was promised by Frankie when she contacted me about going down to Truc Vert, a restaurant/cafe/deli/foodie haven serving classic French dishes with a twist in the centre of London in Mayfair, to try their new Winter Tasting Menu with a bunch of fellow food bloggers. Stepping into Truc Vert and it's elegant but rustic setting instantly made me relax, and the glass of prosecco on arrival and flowing conversation before dinner seconded that Frankie had made good on her promise.  

Truc Vert's high ceilings and recreated colonial features are reminiscent of a French vineyard's villa and there's enough wine bottles stacked from the floor to ceiling to make you forget that outside the hustle and bustle of Selfridges and Oxford Street shoppers is only a stones throw away. The simple linens, rustic wooden features and impressionist paintings could fool me into partaking in a wine tasting or two. But we weren't there, entirely, for the wine, there was an eight course (nine if you include the almond milk sorbet palette cleanser) tasting menu on offer! So up to the challenge, my fellow food bloggers (Frankie, Elizabeth, Gary, Manasi and Mehreen) and I joined the proprietors of Truc Vert for the evening.

The ethos behind Truc Vert is very clear throughout everything they do, and they do a lot as a restaurant/cafe/deli! Their idea of sourcing food locally from artisan suppliers is something I can connect with, in this day and age we like to know where our food is coming from, how it was produced and want to know that the suppliers are as passionate and care about the ingredients they use. This is something I couldn't fault our hosts on. Russell, the brains behind the menu we sampled, was quick to inform us where all their produce came from when describing each dish and his passion was clear from the care he'd put into designing the Winter Tasting Menu.

To kick off the meal we were presented with a shot of pumpkin soup drizzled with truffle oil and dressed with a shaving of parmesan. I'm not a huge fan of soup, particularly pumpkin, probably a complex from living off pumpkin and coriander soup as child for half the year (the other half of the year was reserved for omelettes). However, this was the perfect amount to wake up your tastebuds without overdoing it with a whole bowl and sending them back to sleep. The soup was really tasty with a rich warmth from the truffle oil, while the parmesan added a creamy and slightly dry edge (in a good way, think dry white wine). 

When I saw the first starter was a tartar of vanilla-cured salmon and cucumber in yoghurt with egg and parsley caviar, crispy fried capers and watercress, I almost ran for the hills. Which just shows that you should never judge a dish by its title. I was really prepared to discreetly not enjoy this dish, but I was pleasantly surprised when I found I had finished the whole thing, excluding the large bouquet of watercress. It was a blessing the vanilla-cured salmon was not bursting with vanilla and was more of a subtle flavour that when mixed with the yoghurt and cucumber it really bought out the fish's natural flavour. The egg caviar, which is essentially seived egg yolks, was a nice accompaniment as were the fried capers whose acidity broke through the creaminess of the yoghurt and egg.

It might not have been my favourite dish of the evening, but I did enjoy it and would certainly eat it if we came face to face again, so don't rule it out!

We didn't see the menu before we sat down for dinner as it was the first time it was pulled together, but when we did get a glimpse I thought this course was going to be mine, the one where I try to eat everyone else's venison off their plates. New Zealand Vension carpaccio with plum jelly, pickled baby turnip and horse radish cream served with a flurry of microherbs, there's not a lot of places this dish could go wrong. I have to say though, that although all the food was great, this was my most disappointing dish on the menu. I think there's always one, at Pollen Street Social it was the amuse bouche of popped crackling, at Ottolenghi it was the fermented mackerel and at Truc Vert it was the venison carpaccio.

 I didn't feel like the venison shone in this dish, the horseradish cream was very flavoursome but it drowned out the venison when eaten together. The plum jelly was sweet and sharp as was the crisp slice of pickled baby turnip, and I imagine they would have accompanied the gaminess of the venison perfectly but the venison didn't have a huge amount of flavour. I'm not sure if this is because the meat was cold or a lack of seasoning. I imagine that on a normal day of service Truc Vert will make this a great dish when the pressure of cooking for 'critics' is removed (maybe not real food critics, but still people who'll eat your food, form an opinion and publish it online; negative or positive).

If you have been reading this article and thinking 'what happened to the no dairy diet?', well it happened, it didn't work and I'm eating dairy again (in small amounts; I now find the taste of milk revolting, something I'm not upset about). I was really happy when we were served a palette cleanser of almond milk sorbet. Firstly, thank you Truc Vert for giving me some inspiration for dairy free ice creams, secondly if you like almonds/almond milk/all things sweet and nutty this is delicious, and you should ask to take some away. In a cone. Maybe with a flake.

I'm an Islander at heart and seafood has always been a big part of my life, whether its gathering mussels while the tide's out or trying to catch fish in the harbour. As such, fish courses are usually my favourite and this dish of roast monkfish with foie gras creme caramel, braised puy lentils and a ginger sauce was the best dish of the night. 

The monkfish was meaty but full of the flavour of the sea and perfectly cooked, the lentils were rich with tomato, and as for the foie gras creme caramel. It was rich, it was creamy and velvety smooth, and the best thing I think I've eaten this year. I could have eaten eight courses of the foie gras creme caramel and bread, nine if you want to include it as a palette cleanser as well. 

Medium rare British roast lamb rump, sweetbreads, parmesan gnocchi and trumpette mushrooms in a soubise sauce. This dish is an absolute winner. I loved the trumpette mushrooms in the rich onion sauce with the lamb, it was extravagant but simple cooking done really well. The gnocchi were nice and crunchy on the outside but soft in the inside, they could easily be my replacement for roast potatoes on a Sunday. When you're presented with a dish like this and everything is cooked well, there's not a lot you can say about it except you have to go and try it for yourself.

Truc Vert's take on a banana split consisted of poached banana ice cream, a white chocolate crepe filled with banana, bitter chocolate sauce, and of course it wouldn't be a banana split without a mound of whipped cream with a cherry on top. I love bananas so this was my dessert, the ice cream particularly had a really pronounced flavour that had me going a bit bananas scraping the last little bit off my plate. A very nostalgic plate of food that had me thinking back to holidays as a child, I'm a fan of this take on the banana split and hope to see it making a real revival soon!

I have a statement I have to say, people may find it unpleasant, but I am not a chocolate lover. I don't hate it, I'll eat it and enjoy it, to an extent, but if you gave me a list of desserts I'd stay clear of the chocolate one. With this in mind our second dessert, Delice De Chocolat, a chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache on a praline base served with a chocolate jelly, crystallized mint leaves and a hazlenut sauce wasn't my thing. That's not to say it wasn't executed well, and the rest of the table really liked it. The praline base was something I hadn't had before and it was really smooth, and my first couple of bites of the mousse with the praline and sauce were decadently rich and good. I just can't take too much cocoa. 

I want to go back and relive this spread of cheese above. Let it be said Truc Vert does not skimp on the cheese board. I probably ate more than my fair share of cheese, and between nine of us we still didn't demolish these boards. There was a great selection of cheeses all served with a tomato chutney, dried fruit and bread. Coming from a Swiss French family, the French have the right idea about serving cheese with bread and not crackers. The British are missing a trick here, its bread everytime!

My favourite cheeses were the Sainte-Maure de Touraine, a creamy goats cheese with an ashened rind, the slices of Morbier, a hard cows milk cheese with a layer of ash within the cheese which had a great depth of flavour, and the Fourme d'Ambert, a mouthwatering rich blue cows milk cheese. Truc Vert's cheese really impressed me because it showed the other side of the business, working as a Deli, and they've been doing this for 14 years, so if you're after a glass of wine and some good French cheese for an evening then go there; they know what they're doing with their cheese.

I wish all meals ended in a goodie bag. Our amazing hosts, Russell and Louise, had arranged for us to take home some samples of what they sell in the Deli at Truc Vert and God were they good. Little lemon Madeleines, the softest and best vanilla marshmallows I've ever had (run and pick some up now!), double chocolate chip brownies and delicious granola, whose caramel flavour was part of my breakfast for an entire week, were all of the goodies that I took home. And all of these goods were made on the premise, I personally find it incredible that Truc Vert does so many different things so well.
I was really delighted to be one of the first to try the new tasting menu, but the great news is its now available for all to try at Truc Vert at a cost of £70 per head. This is a reasonable cost for a tasting menu, especially one of this calibre. However, if you just want to go there for something slightly more casual or you're just after a board of cheese try their a la carte menu, which features some of the dishes available on this tasting menu.
Thanks to Frankie from TheMayFairy for inviting me to dine at Truc Vert, and to Russell and Louise for a wonderful evening and for sponsoring the whole affair. All opinions are from yours truly!

13 November 2014

Konditor & Cook Bakery in Borough Market

Going back to when my friend Louise was back in town from Dubai for a holiday, we had a proper 'you sound like you're from Landan' day of going to our favourite hot spots. We also had a day out of Breakfast at Tiffany's where I took Louise somewhere she'd never been to, the completely vegetarian and affordable neighbourhood Bonnington Café (posted here), and she took me somewhere I'd never been to, Konditor & Cook in Borough Market. Coincidentally Louise if you're reading this, a holiday in England is not long enough, think more permanently.

Borough Market is one of my favourite haunts. There's always something new to see and eat, and I love the passion that the suppliers have and readily doll out when asked about their produce. Owing to this you might be able to forgive that, bar from the odd pub or two, I had never eaten anything from any of the restaurants and shops that border the market. Now I'm not a huge brownie fan but when Louise said Konditor & Cook had a brownie bar (aka a selection of brownies) I was very excited. And that combined with the beautiful cake in the window with its smeared rainbow iced tiers reflecting the colours of the hanging umbrellas in the neighbouring street pulled me in.

There are so many different types of dessert on offer at Konditor & Cook, and I have to go back and sample more soon, brownie lover or not that curly wurly brownie is mine! Their cakes bring back really nostalgic memories for me of the Polish bakery back home that my mum goes to for almost every occasion. And the origins of Konditor & Cook are not so far from my home bakery, the creator of Konditor & Cook originates from Southern Germany and makes handmade desserts with added glamour.

The day we went to Konditor & Cook was not a chocolate day for me, so I went for their Carrot Passion Cake. Which as it sounds is a gloriously nutty hazelnut and carrot cake coated in an ever layer of passion fruit mascarpone icing. This cake had the most incredible flavour and it's so light! Passion fruit must be the most extravagant fruit available, it's definitely one of my favourites. I did not regret opting for this cake over a brownie, although I did regret not getting two slices.

Pictured above is the ultimate Curly Wurly Brownie, Louise's choice. Cheesecake brownies have been around for a while but this one is a real winner. It might not beat my favourite red velvet cheesecake brownie from Sweet Things around Primrose Hill but it comes a close rich and sour second. If anyone has any knowledge of other cheesecake brownie hotspots in London, please let me know!

Head to Konditor & Cook early on a market day to get first pick of the goods and not be disappointed. Alternatively go on the days where Borough Market isn't on and try some of the goods the surrounding shops and restaurants have on offer. 

4 November 2014

Toffee Crumble Apples

"It's beginning to look a lot like...Winter" and I'm already having to restrain myself from singing Christmas songs. Mostly Perry Como's version of this song and an assortment of others from The Muppet's Christmas Carol. It might not be the coolest Christmas film around but it's certainly my favourite. 

To banish my Wintery thoughts and because Bonfire Night is tomorrow! I'm shaking myself off these thoughts with some Toffee Crumble Apples! 

What makes these Toffee Crumble Apples is the addition of crunchy pecans, juicy raisins and dried cranberries and some crumbly oat biscuit pieces. And with these three apple crumble ingredients comes the added deluxe additions of vanilla seed paste in the toffee and a hearty heap of cinnamon, the ultimate Autumn spice.

Now I know what you're thinking another toffee apple recipe. It's been done. You're over it. Aren't these supposed to be eaten at Halloween? Well you could think all those things, or you could trust me when I say this is not any toffee apple, this is apple crumble on a stick/pencil! You could even drown it in custard if you want, although if you do this you might want to eat it with a fork and spoon instead.

Plus I even have some apple recommendations for you, that's right, I bet you didn't know I'm an apple connoisseur (not to be mistaken with an apple snob). If you want something with a bit of fizz and spiciness go for a Jazz apple, they've been described as a similar flavour to coca cola (by my boyfriend and possibly him alone). Or if you want something tart with bite try the old favourite Braeburn, crisp and a little sour. And then there's the best of both worlds, the Jonagold, it's sweet and sour with a good level of, dare I say, a spicy bouquet.

Don't be fooled by the Christmas gear in the shops. Autumn is still here. Make these toffee apples (jazz them up with some fall coloured pencils if you have to), grab some sparklers and celebrate the last of Autumn in multiple layers!

Toffee Crumble Apples
(6 ginormous apples or 10-12 small ones)
6 apples of your choosing (my faves are Jazz, Jonagold and the good ol' Braburn)
300g caster sugar plus an extra 2 tsp
75ml water
3 tbsp golden syrup
1 1/2 tsp vanilla seed paste (or 1 pod)
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
75g pecans
2 tsp cinnamon
100g raisins and dried cranberries
2 oat biscuits or 1/2 cup of toasted oats

Step 1. Boil the kettle. Put the apples in a colander and place over the sink. Once the kettle has boiled pour the hot water over the apples to remove their waxy coating so the toffee won't run off. You don't want to cook the apples just merely scorch their skin with the water. Then twist of the stems, stick a lollipop stick/fork/coloured pencils with their ends wrapped in baking paper into the apples and place them on a lined baking tray.

Step 2. Toast the oats in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 5-10 minutes till lightly golden or crumble the biscuits into crumbs (both options work well but I like mine with a little extra sweetness, in addition to the  toffee, so biscuits for me!) put in a shallow bowl. Crush the pecans with your hands or back of  a knife, put in another bowl and toss them in the extra tsps sugar and cinnamon. You can either keep the raisins and cranberries whole or chop them into smaller chunks but chuck them in a third bowl too.

Step 3. Put 300g sugar and the water into a saucepan and stir until the sugar is dissolved over a medium heat. Once the sugar has dissolved add the golden syrup, vinegar and vanilla seed paste and boil till it reaches 155 degrees Celsius on a sugar thermometer or when a little toffee is dropped into cold water it hardens instantly and easily snaps.

Step 4. With or without assistance, one at a time, dip and twist the apples in the toffee till smothered then dunk into your toppings. I recommend going for the biscuit and nuts first, and fruit second because the toffee hardens quite quickly it's more difficult to stick the solid toppings to the toffee apples. Place the toffee apples on the lined baking tray to cool.

Step 5. Throw a bonfire night bash and eat all the toffee apples with friends. Alternatively, eat all the apples on your own within 2 days.