The Best Vegetarian Brunch Ever – Lablabi

Today’s World Vegetarian Day and though I’m not a vegetarian myself I’m all for spreading the word about the fabulous veggie food that we should all be eating more of – it’s not just better for the planet it’s better for your waistline too. But you know all that, so I’m not going to keep banging on about why you SHOULD be eating this because quite frankly once you’ve tried it you’ll be wanting to make this again and again.

Lablabi is the traditional breakfast soup served in cafés all over Tunisia, it’s the kind of food that seriously sets you up for the day. This chickpea broth can be as fiery and spicy as you like but be sure to add plenty of lemon juice – it’s the tangy zing that really makes the dish. The recipe comes from my book Pulse  (which I must point out is not purely vegetarian but of course, since it deals with legumes, has loads of veggie recipes). The picture is by the very talented  (and gorgeous) photographer Clare Winfield

Clare Winfield, Pulse

I can just about manage a few tablespoons of muesli and a sweet (I know, appalling) coffee for breakfast first thing but from about 10.30 onwards I’m up for anything. Lablabi makes an amazing brunch and with chickpeas, bread and poached egg it’s pretty hearty and satisfying. You can poach eggs ahead of time for a crowd – here are some pretty comprehensive directions

The capers, olives , spices and harissa give the broth a multi- dimensional flavour. It’s up to you whether you serve everything together as we’ve done in the picture or whether you put all the garnishes in diddy bowls for people to zapp up their own serving as much as they’d like – either way you end up with a riot of Mediterranean colour and flavours.

Tunisian chickpea and lemon broth
Lablabi                                    Serves 4

If you do get around to cooking your own chickpeas their water will really enhance the broth.

For the broth
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
700 g/1  1/2 lb cooked chickpeas or 3 x 400 g tin of chickpeas, drained
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp harissa paste
800 ml/ 1&1/2 pints vegetable stock or chickpea cooking water
Juice of 1 lemon

In the broth
2-4 slices of good, day old rustic bread, ripped into large pieces (I use sour dough)
4 eggs, poached
1 tsp wine vinegar

On the top
4 tsps harissa paste
1 tbsp parsley
2 tbsp capers
12 black olives, chopped
2 red peppers, roasted, skinned and cut into ribbons (optional)
1 lemon sliced into quarters
a dash of extra virgin olive oil.

Take a large saucepan and fry the onion in the olive oil until soft and golden.

Add the garlic and once your kitchen is filled with fabulous wafts throw in the chickpeas, cumin, harissa and  a pinch of salt, stir for a couple of minutes and then pour in the liquid. Traditionally this is the broth produced by the chickpeas as they cook but vegetable stock works well too. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Squeeze in the lemon juice and season with salt.

Place the ripped bread in individual soup bowls, ladle over the broth, throw in some chickpeas and place the egg on top.

Now for all the garnishes: I usually sit a small blob of harissa on top of the egg and serve some more at the table for anyone after the extra kick. Sprinkle over the other delicious bits and serve.

And if this kind of spicy breakfast brunch/breakfast is your thing and you just haven’t got the time to whip it up yourself here are …..

My Top 3 Brunch Spots
I make no apologies for the fact that two are in Bristol – it’s where I live and the food scene is just great (and ever evolving)

Bakers and Co on the Gloucester Road (Bristol) make the best huevos rancheros this side of Mexico (slow cooked pinto beans, salsas, tortilla and fried egg) and I defy you not to manage to squeeze in an amazing pastry too.

The Souk Kitchen on North Street, Bedminster (Bristol) does fabulous brunches on a Saturday and Sunday. Lots of fragrant North African flavours (as well as a good old English if you must), I had an incredible beetroot and cumin puree with my egg and sourdough last time we went. On Sundays there’s a great food market opposite too (1st Sunday in the month has lots of retro clothes etc too)

Honey and Co Warren Street, London Oh yes, it absolutely lives up to all the hype (haven’t heard the hype? Where the hell have you been?- certainly not reading my blog!) As well as having published 2 of my favourite recipe books ever, these guys serve up a simply amazing brunch . The shakshuka (eggs in a spiced tomato sauce) is to die for, their aubeginey-feta frittata just heaven, the cakes on the windowsill just can’t be resisted. GO. On weekdays there’s a great breakfast menu, on Saturdays it becomes a feast (closed Sunday).

Chassignolles and Simple Puy Lentil Salad

Jenny Chandler at ChassignollesI’ll try not to allow this post to sound like some completely over the top advert for a quite impossibly perfect place to go on holiday BUT, to be quite honest, our three night honeymoon (apparently rather nauseatingly known nowadays as a “minimoon”) was just heaven. We went to the Auberge de Cassignolles in the Auvergne, a small hotel with eight rooms and, most importantly, an utterly amazing restaurant.

I simply loved everything about the place: the jar of wild roses and blackberries by the bed, the crispy white bed linen, the shuttered windows opening out onto the village square with it’s medieval church (with its very loud bells), the fabulous art on the walls. It’s almost impossible not to bang on about it all but I’ll hold back and let Peter’s pictures ( well, I might have taken a couple) do the talking.

And, as to the food, it just couldn’t have been better. Peter Taylor (previously of The Riverstation, Bristol) owns and runs the show with his incredibly resourceful chef, Matt Robertson (American… Arkansas in fact, been cheffing in Paris and all over the place for years including Chez Panisse). The auberge vegetable patch provides most of the fresh produce along with eggs, goat’s milk (for the cheese, ice cream etc) lamb and pork. Unpasteurised cow’s milk comes from just down the road, as do all the amazing local cheeses, charcuterie is all made in-house (Peter visibly winced as I asked him if the veal boudin blanc was homemade – of course it was) so are all the fabulous jams. Breakfast is perfect, dinner is even better ( sorry, I did tell you that I was going to go overboard in my excitement).

Every night Peter serves a five course meal (an absolute bargain at 25 euros) of the most stunningly balanced food, it’s all obviously so gloriously fresh and as he says “it’s what Matt doesn’t do to it”. Locals book tables for the upcoming evenings without even inquiring what will be on the menu; the blackboard goes up just before dinner. Our first night will stay with me as one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever eaten- a citrus scented pumpkin soup, a fresh goat’s cheese salad with grilled courgettes and shaved radishes, then roast lamb with fresh chard, tomatoes and flageolet beans, followed by local cheese and leaves from the garden and finishing up with a strawberry frangipane tart with incredible buttery pastry. It sounds like we would need to have been stretchered off to bed but, incredibly, the plates were so carefully measured that I felt beautifully satisfied rather than stuffed.That’s the thing about a chef’s menu, as Sally Clarke’s been demonstrating for decades in London, they think about the balance so much better than we do when we select our favourites from a menu. So basically, if you love food just get to Chassignolles; it’s simply no wonder that it was recently listed by The Times in their Top Foodie Hotels of Europe 

A rather miraculous side to our trip was the lack of hang-overs or the slightest hint of an early morning fuzzy head – even if Mr Bassett does look as if he’s getting pretty pie-eyed on the Negronis. This has to come down to the natural wines that Peter serves, he’s brilliant too when it comes to introducing you to what is, for most of us, pretty new territory. SO, a gushing review about, what does just happen to be, some friends of our’s hotel but I’d like to add that it doesn’t make the positive report predictable at all, I have to admit that it makes me quite nervous going to a friend’s joint, it’s that awful feeling that you might NOT like it…. then silence is the only way.

We didn’t spend every waking hour eating and drinking at Chassignolles, we headed out in our diddy hire car to the market in Langeac – one of those proper French markets with producers bringing their own small selection of cheeses, charcuterie, fruit or veg. I came away with a few saucissons (finished last for lunch today) and some Mirabelles jam.

We pottered down country roads, got lost (I was map reading – more about my navigational skills later) but did find the lentil Mecca of Le Puy en Velay.  The volcanic landscape was stunning but not a lentil in sight (all harvested in August) but we still managed  to slip in a lentil salad for a light lunch beside the Cathedral.


It’s so tempting to digress into talk of pilgrims, the trail to Santiago de Compostela, winding medieval steps trodden over centuries but I do need to get down to giving you a lentil salad recipe. I’m sure that you get the picture from Peter’s photos & I’m definitely getting back to Le Puy in lentil season next year, so more on that at a later date.

The salad recipe is as simple and straightforward as they come, all about quality ingredients and perfect seasoning; a lesson learnt in Chassignolles.

Simple Lentil Salad Serves 4
No photo I’m afraid – you’ve had more than the usual ration and I want to get this post out before the auberge closes for the winter. If you’re in Bristol then you’re in luck, as it seems that Peter and Max’s Bar Buvette is set to “pop up” again in the coming months. I’ll keep you posted.

250 g/9 oz Puy or Castellucio lentils, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 small red onion , finely sliced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
salt and black pepper
4 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

Place the lentils in a pan with the bay leaf and cover with cold water by about 5 cm/ 2 inches . Bring them up to the boil and then simmer for about 20-30 minutes until tender but still just intact (don’t leave them like little pebbles, or you’ll have a lot of fun digesting them)

Meanwhile pour the vinegar over the onion and leave to soak, red onion will turn fuschia pink and become softer in both texture and flavour.

Drain the lentils, reserving their cooking liquid, and whilst still warm add the vinegar, olive oil and season well with salt and black pepper, allowing the tastes to marry.

Once cool stir in the chopped parsley and add a little cooking water if the salad seems dry.

Try stirring in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard & serve with cold ham or a good pork pie.
Use as a base for any winter salads with roast vegetables and goat’s cheese.

Recipe from my book Pulse
Most of the pic’s by Peter Bassett – my husband!.

Oh, and just one word on my navigational skills, or travel planning. It’s wise to check maps and distances carefully on the internet. It transpired that Chassignolles is indeed just an hour from Limoges airport, just not the Chassignolles that we were going to…….. could have been the first marital bust up after 4 hours in the car BUT thankfully Peter was swept away by the auberge’s charms too.

Prawn cocktails, shingle beaches and carousels – a Kentish holiday

WhitstableAs a child we headed west in August, never abroad, it was always a road trip to Wales. Nowadays it’s so easy to leap on a plane that everyone seems to assume that you’ll be heading to the Med’, having a British holiday even has a dreaded label – a “staycation”. Well, our drive from Bristol to Kent certainly took long enough to warrant holiday status and we thankfully enjoyed sunnier climes too, our week in the east was a stunner.

We stayed in Whitstable, famed for its oysters and more recently for having a touch of the Islington-on-sea about it. Now it might seem very shallow but I’m perfectly happy to share the place with the D.F.L’s (Down from Londons) since their penchant for the good life means that the town is packed with great deli’s, restaurants, and some rather tempting boutiques too.

We spent most of our week pottering around the town, sitting on the beach and being lured into the sea by 8 year old Imi and her little school friend. We did have one big day out to the much-talked-about Margate, just about 1/2 an hour down the coast. This rather dilapidated old seaside resort is firmly back on the map with the re-opening of its Dreamland amusement park and the very cool Turner Contemporary Gallery just along the seafront.

To be honest the resort did look a little down-at- heel and deserted when we arrived first thing (the girls had been up since 6 in anticipation), but once we were in (first through the gates!) we had a fab’ time. No queues for well over an hour: dodgems, shelter skelter, carousel, rockets, loads of fun and managed to avoid the few really hideously scary rides. Dreamland has been refurbished with a great retro feel, we loved the high diving display, the staff were incredibly upbeat and enthusiastic and we even found a really good Thai green curry for lunch. Whilst Dreamland doesn’t compete with the likes of Chessington or Alton Towers on the thrill side of things it was simply perfect for younger kids and old crusties like ourselves who would probably have a breakdown on a corkscrew rollercoaster. So thumbs up for Dreamland!

We headed for the beach in the afternoon (the sand was the big lure after Whitstable’s pebbles) and Peter and I took turns to visit the Turner Contemporary where I was just mesmerised by the Grayson Perry exhibition – Provincial Punk. His Walthamstow Tapestry is worth the trip to Margate  – no photos permitted so get down there before September 13th when the show winds up.

Back in Whitstable much of our time, or mine at least, was devoted to the important business of food – no surprises there! We had to dive into some oysters of course; The Royal Whitstable Oyster Company is a glorious location with an incredible heritage and our lunch was fabulous too, even the girls sampled their first oysters. The Cheesebox  is unmissable; an entire shop of British cheese, local pickles, sourdough bread, Kentish cider – I could happily move in. DavidBrown’s Deli is another place to fill your picnic basket, or fridge (in fact you could happily graze around the food shops and never cook a thing) Being August, the local plums and cherries were in their prime too, I always think that cherries are pretty hit or miss, these were divine. And then, to top it all, comes the high altar of all things fishy; Wheelers. Yes, the original one- you have to book a table in the little back parlour months in advance (top priority before our next visit) but can thankfully buy prepared seafood such as smoked prawns, dressed crab, fish cakes, jellied eels (I tried to like them, I am so sad but I don’t ….. I Really don’t!) however the prawns were to die for.

I couldn’t resist the Wheelers’ cook book – Oyster Seekers (as well as a great collection of seafood recipes there’s some fabulous insight into Whitable’s history and the oyster trade). I’ve chosen to share this Prawn Cocktail in homage to the retro Dreamland, to Seventies summer holidays and all things British.

Wheelers Prawn and Dill Cocktail
Serves 4

28 Tiger prawns, raw, peeled and deveined (keep the heads and shells for stock)
lemon juice
1/2 a cucumber
6 tbsp good mayonnaise
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp horseradish sauce
paprika, cayenne and Tabasco
splash of Brandy
8-10 fronds of dill
1/2 a Cos lettuce
a few mixed salad leaves
8 cherry tomatoes
4 lemon wedges
4 slices Brown Bread

Cook the prawns in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes, drain & allow to cool , squeezing a little lemon juice over them whilst they are still warm.

Shred the cucumber into spaghetti -like strips; a mandolin is the suggested tool (if you’ve fallen for the Spiraliser craze, well get on down!) or you could just use a knife. Season with a little salt and pepper. Put the cucumber in a colander to drain away excess moisture.

Mix together the mayo, ketchup, horseradish, a pinch of paprika and cayenne , a dash of Tabasco and brandy and add seasoning and lemon juice to taste. Chop up the dill and fold into the sauce.

Divide the Cos and salad leaves between 4 bowls (or cocktail glasses – come on give it the 70’s look) and top with some of the cucumber and tomatoes.

Pile on the prawns and spoon over some sauce. Finish up with a sprinkle of paprika.

Serve with a lemon wedge and brown bread and butter.

The ultimate prawn cocktail(From The Oyster Seekers by Mandy Bruce 2006)

Sundal Accra – A Bonus Spicy Chickpea Recipe!

OOPs I did it again! In the carefully selected words of Imi’s favourite Britney Spear”s number.

I can just about write one blog but managing to write two is almost beyond me. I decided to set one up for our wedding guests and have, for the second time, managed to post some completely irrelevant information to hundreds of food followers and chickpea enthusiasts- Sorry if you’re bewildered – I’ve taken it down now and you have a very quick post in it’s place!

So it’s not all bad since I’m going to reward you with one of my favourite recipes from Pulse (Oh and what a fine excuse to mention my book once more)

Pulse Jenny Chandler

Southern Indian Chickpeas and Coconut
Sundal Accra

There are so many amazing Indian snacks made with pulses to choose from, it was the pure simplicity of these chickpeas that caught my eye. Then, once eaten never forgotten, they make a great little nibble to serve before a curry.

This snack is traditionally served outside the temples of Southern India during the Hindu festival of Navratri. Nowadays it’s tricky tracking down whole coconuts in Britain but you’ll certainly know what to do next time you score on the coconut shy at the local fête. I’ve used desicated coconut but if you do find a fresh one in an ethnic store it is oh so much tastier.

1 tsp vegetable oil such as rapeseed, sunflower, ground nut or coconut oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 green chilli, very finely diced
1 tsp fresh ginger, very finely chopped
5 curry leaves (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp urad dal or very unorthodox red lentils (optional)
250 g home-cooked or 1 x 400g tin, drained and rinsed chickpeas
4 tbsp freshly grated coconut or 2 tbsp unsweetened desiccated coconut

A handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped

Take a large frying pan and heat up the oil, add the mustard seeds and wait until they begin to splutter and pop about.

Now throw in the chilli, ginger, garlic, curry leaves, salt and raw dal (or lentils) if using.

Wait for the aromas to burst out of the pan and the dal/lentils to begin crisping up and then stir in the chickpeas.

Remove from the heat and stir well, add the grated coconut and dive in.

Scrumptious warm or cold.

Deconstructed Minestrone

Minestrone SaladIt does sound seriously poncey I know, but this salad came about quite by mistake and not as some highfalutin cheffy notion. A couple of weeks ago I was running a workshop at Imi’s Primary School with an entire class of Year 3 (7-8 year olds) and had planned on making a huge minestrone soup showcasing some of the vegetables picked in the school garden. Of course that particular day turned out to be the heatwave of the century (it did only last a day) and hot soup really did not fit the bill at all. SO, deconstructed minestrone it was and how tasty it turned out to be too.

I’ve started teaching regular cooking workshops with the help of some enthusiastic parents at my daughter’s primary school; it’s quite a challenge as we’re working in the dining room, have just one small oven and no individual hobs as yet. Interestingly these limitations forced me to really think how to go about the sessions and now we have a great formula. In each class we have a core recipe such as a bulgur wheat salad, or Turkish borek (little folded filo pastries) or in today’s case minestrone with about 4 or 5 key ingredients and a few basic instructions. Then we let the kids loose on a whole variety of other vegetables, herbs, cheeses, spices and seasonings (or any other appropriate bits) that I’ve arranged on a huge table. The children work in small groups on their recipe; it’s quite extraordinary to watch the peer pressure and competitive spirit at work -suddenly previously green-phobic kids are diving into pea shoots, raw courgette, dill and avocado.

Perhaps the most gratifying  thing about our Food Group sessions is the parental feed back, some children are even sending their mothers off with shopping lists so that they can reproduce the simple meal back at home, others are being more adventurous in their food choices. There’s no doubt that cooking is key to getting children excited about eating healthy food (it’s not just about making chocolate brownies and cup cakes – I could rant now but we’ll leave that for another day)

But back to the Minestrone –  a classic Italian dish that translates as “big soup”, it varies with the region and the season but is quite definitely never a salad! So get off my back Italophiles.  I know that it doesn’t really make sense but the ingredients (with the obvious omission of the stock) are basically the same – just raw rather than cooked.  This “Deconstructed Minestrone”  is great way of plumping up a summer salad into a substantial lunch dish and also using up any random vegetables that are good eaten raw. It’s up to you how many ingredients you throw into the mix.

Deconstructed Minestrone.

Minestrone Jenny Chandler

70’s Style Still L ife

The Base
250 g cannellini or haricot beans ( 1 x 400 g can of  beans drained or home – cooked – it’s up to you)
100 g tiny pasta e.g.  orzo (like tiny rice), acini de pepe (literally pepper corns) or stellette (little stars )
250 g ripe, tasty tomatoes cut into bite-sized pieces
3 or 4 spring onions, trimmed and finely slice
A large handful of basil leaves, ripped into small pieces
Shavings or parmesan or pecorino cheese

The Dressing
Juice of 1 lemon
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh peas straight from the pod
Courgette, cut into very fine slices (yes, raw courgette is delicious and a winner with the kids)
Celery, chopped finely
Red or yellow pepper cut into tiny dice
Carrot, diced finely
Parsley, dill, mint, oregano, rocket, pea shoots, baby spinach
French beans or baby broad beans, blanched until tender.

Rinse the cannelloni or haricot beans and place them in a large salad bowl.

Boil the pasta in salted water until just “al dente” it’s pretty quick with all these tiny, soupy shapes so keep an eye. Drain the pasta and add it to the beans.

Now add the remaining vegetables and dressing to the bowl, holding back on tender herbs, salad leaves and the cheese shavings until you are just about ready to serve.

The salad only improves with a few extra hours in the bowl with all the flavours getting to know one another.

You could add tinned tuna (leave out the cheese), anchovies, capers or olives to the mix but now we are really straying from the minestrone roots.


Sadly, hot soup seems the better option today as I sit at my desk in summer frock and flip flops desperately trying to think sultry sunny thoughts. We’re off to W.O.M.A.D. ( a fabulous music festival) tomorrow, the wellies and not-so-fashionable rain ponchos are by the front door but I’m crossing my fingers.



Thai- ish Watercress, Grapefruit and Peanut Salad

Oops, what happened to June? I’ll try to make up for my negligence this month.

The last few weeks were pretty bonkers as I was involved with The Bristol Good Food Awards, meaning that I had the desperately difficult job of eating my way around the city’s best breakfast joints. It’s pretty good news for anyone who likes to eat out of a mornin’ – the five nominees were all fabulous. So, just in case you feel like a great start to the day Rosemarino, The Boston Tea Party, The Souk Kitchen (North St- breakfast’sa Sunday affair only), Brew Coffee Company and Bakers and Co were all really outstanding. Bakers and Co won by a slim margin, I was just bowled over by my plate of sour dough with flat peach, cured ham, fresh ricotta and tomatoes.  So get down to The Gloucester rd if you happen to be in Bristol.

The down side of all this eating out (I was judging “family friendly” with Imi too – but more on that next time) is my ever expanding waistline. It’s particularly worrying as my wedding is fast approaching (in September); it’s one thing getting married at fifty, it’s quite another looking like a whale.

I tried on a potential dress in London the other day, but then did find myself hot-footing it to the lingerie department at Peter Jones in search of some serious corsetry to vacuum-pack the wobbly bits into. So there I was, crouched over the Spanx pant stand, grappling for my reading glasses because the size label was just a bit too small, when an old friend from university tapped me on the shoulder. I hadn’t seen Kitty in at least twenty years and there we were, both looking at reinforced underwear, both squinting at the labels. Life moves on. Ho hum.

I could have a quick fling with the 5:2 diet but I just know that it would make me miserable. I do love to eat salads during the summer any way so I’ve decided to make myself something interesting and quite possibly healthy for lunch every day. Today’s salad is seriously assertive and very light too. It was enough for lunch for me (Peter had some too) but I don’t have a big appetite when the weather’s  warm. This would be very good indeed with some spiced pork ribs off the barbie too.

Thai-ish Watercress, Grapefruit and Peanut Salad  (serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side)

Thai style salad

The salad is “Thai -ish” as I think it’s doubtful that you’d find watercress out there ( I may be wrong?) and the citrus choice would be a pomelo rather than a pink grapefruit. The dressing is, however, very authentic and not the thing to be cooking up if you’re trying to sell your house (read exceedingly pongy) so get the extractor fan on. Fish sauce smells vile as you cook it but tastes divine!

4 grapefruit, cut into segments, juice set aside
1 large bunch watercress, washed and trimmed
50 g lightly roasted peanuts
About 20 mint leaves

4 tbsp thai fish sauce
Juice of 1/2 a lime
2 tbsp palm sugar (light muscovado works well)
1/2 – 1 clove garlic, crushed
1 – 2 Thai red chillis

Prepare the salad ingredients and place in individual bowls or on a large platter.

To make the dressing: warm about 1/2 of the fish sauce in a small saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of the grapefruit juice ( you will have gathered plenty as you prepared the grapefruit).

Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.

Tip into a small bowl and add the remaining fish sauce and the lime juice.

Now add the garlic, chilli and grapefruit juice a little at a time, balancing the flavours as you go. You are looking for the perfect equilibrium between sweet, sour, salty, umami and heat.

Tip over the salad to serve.

You could also try : adding prawns, white crab meat or poached chicken to this recipe for a fabulous light lunch.

Sour, salty, umami, sweet, bitter – this ticks all the taste boxes.

Shopping for watercress:
There are lots of things I love about Spanish food; the supermarket bags of tiny-leaved, pale green watercress are not one of them. You want the peppery punch of good, fresh English watercress here.

Honey, Honey

I’ve had a couple of great honey moments over the last few days. Firstly, going back to one of my all time favourite places in London: Honey and Co. I love understated restaurants like this, there’s no ponce or finery to detract from the fabulously tasty Middle Eastern food. I’d escaped from my work just off Regent Street in the mid-afternoon and wandered through Fitzrovia to Warren Street. I always feel like a tourist when I work in London, it’s great to explore new areas- I’d never found Fitzroy Square before – it’s glorious… but back to Honey and Co.

Husband and wife team, Itamar and Sarit, are originally from Israel, they worked for Ottolenghi amongst others, and long dreamed of having their own neighbourhood restaurant. Now they have it, Honey and Co, and it’s heaven (lots of reviews here) Others have said it before, and it does sound corny, but the food really does ooze love and care.

By the time I got there, around four, I was ready for a cup of fresh mint tea and a small slitherette of something sweet. The window sill is always crammed with cakes but these are no ordinary cakes, they’re not M&S cakes either, they’re one off, eat-with-your-eyes-but-just-wait-’till-you-taste-and-they’re-simply-sublime-cakes. The warm, kaffir lime and mango cakes were recommended. Itamar had bought a box of kaffir limes a few days before and these were the first results. They’ll be too late to make it into The Baking Book which is out next month, and if any of you don’t already own the first Honey and Co, Food From The Middle East cookbook ( v.v. inspiring and a great read too) then you’d better buy the pair. My next visit will be for lunch, and not just a cake.


I have to admit I’ve never really known much about honey. I always  buy a pot of local stuff when I visit my sister in Devon but I’ve never thought too much about tasting and using a variety of honeys. I know that I adore heather honey and I’m not so sure about chestnut honey and that’s about it. Now we have a selection of four delicious honeys on the go  (LOVE the lemon blossom honey) as a result of one of my latest book purchases,  Spoonfuls of Honey by Hattie Ellis. There’s a great glossary on bees and honey, tips about keeping the bees happy in your garden, a guide to different honeys and masses of savoury and sweet recipes….altogether a very lovely book and, most importantly, one I really want to get into the kitchen with.

Imi and I decided to make some Madeleines from the book yesterday for her to take to her friend  Lettie’s party. She gets very excited about making presents and spent as long decorating the box as making the cakes. But, just in case this all seems a bit syrupy, gorgeously homey-mother-and-daughtery you’ll be pleased to know that we did have a near melt down at the spooning into the tin stage. I dared to suggest that Imi could perhaps be a little more careful and sparing with the mixture and then had to take a hold of myself and STAND AWAY from a very stroppy child for a few tense minutes.

Madeleines – (recipe from Spoonfuls of Honey) makes 20-24

100 g unsalted butter, + extra for greasing
2 tbsp honey (Hattie recommends a medium/dark honey such as heather – I’d just fallen in love with the blonder lemon blossom honey and they still tasted GOOD)
3 eggs
100 g caster sugar
100 g self raising flour
50 g ground almonds
pinch of sea salt.

Melt the butter and honey together (I zapped mine on low in the microwave)

Whisk the eggs together with the sugar with an electric whisk. Hattie recommended 10 minutes in order to triple the volume, an 8 year old’s wrist was apparently going into spasm after about 5 so that’s all we managed.

Fold in the flour, almonds and salt. Now Hattie suggests leaving the mixture in the fridge to rest for a couple hours making it easier to spoon into the tin as it holds its shape better. We were running out of time so it only got 20 minutes. (Maybe this led to our slightly messy pan filling?)

Preheat the oven to 180ºc/Gas 4

Grease the madeleine tray and put a couple of teaspoons of mixture into each mould. Bake for about 7 minutes (check after 5) remembering, as Hattie says, that the madeleines will be browner on the bottom than the top.

Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes in the tray (Imi managed about 3 max!) and then unmould onto a wire rack to cool.

You can keep these in a tin for a couple of days but the fresh cakes, were (as they always are) simply the best.

I can see these elegant little cakes becoming a regular in my repertoire (I’m not much of a cake maker but I could memorise this recipe), they were so easy and worked brilliantly despite our shortcuts.
I did hesitate before buying another cake tin but as Hattie says “a madeleine mould is an object of beauty”. If you ask me the madeleine itself is the Juliette Binoche of the cake world; an absolute breath of fresh air in a world of fancy cup cakes and frosted doughnuts.

There’s so much left to say on the honey subject too; we have a  bottle of gold dust from the Nepalese honey gatherers that Peter brought back from his filming trip 20 years ago,  but more on that at a later date.