Last week’s trip to London was a lightning fast, belt-tightening business. I’m afraid that the tightening was not of a budgetary nature, more a matter of waist expansion. I went on the opposite of the 5:2 diet (which, if any of you have somehow managed to miss all the hype, revolves around five days of “sensible” eating and two days of fasting each week) I think I managed to pack in about 5000 calories rather than the terrifyingly meagre 500 allowed on each of my 2 days. I must be taking Graham Norton’s very sensible advice that there comes an age when you decide between your face or your buttocks. A couple of my fasting friends are looking positively peaky even if they do have waspish waistlines.
The National Express coach left Bristol at 5.45 am ; how very glamorous! This could bring on a rant about train prices, as I just can’t part with well over £100 (I need to arrive by 9 am) for the pleasure of squeezing onto a packed train to London and back. People tend to be terribly snobby about the bus, but I take a different view. By the time I get to London I’ve saved myself over £90 which I can then blow on cook books, crockery, cheese or whatever else I decide is a vital business expense, all without an ounce of guilt.
I kicked of with a Pulse demo at Divertimenti on Marylebone High St, which was great fun (well, I thought so) and afterwards had some heady excitement signing books (it does still seem very odd that anyone should want my signature), although my line-up was rather more bus-queue than Katie-Price-stampede. I munched my way through a good plate of my legumes, quality control of course, and then jumped on a double-decker bus to Notting Hill – I love that front seat at the top, it still makes me feel like a sightseer.
First stop my favourite book shop in London, Books for Cooks. If you haven’t been, you should go for lunch one day. Eric, Clara and Marilou cook up a fabulous feast from the books they stock in the shop (meaning that they’re super-clued up when it comes to recommending what to buy too). You can’t book so rock up by midday if you want to be sure of a table. Of course I had to buy something; this time it was Bruno Loubet’s truly inspiring Mange Tout.
Virtually next door to Books for Cooks is Ceramica Blue, where I’ve found my most exciting bits of crockery, napkins, aprons and all those other essential bits over the years. The danger is that, with blog pictures to take, I have yet another reason to squeeze even more plates into my cupboards. For once I was incredibly restrained and managed to leave the shop with a couple of funky acrylic spoons, a turquoise bowl and an apron depicting all the classic meat cuts (just incase, with all the pulse talk, anyone thought I was a vegetarian).
Next I discovered the very novel Biscuiteers, yes, you guessed it – a biscuit shop but “this is no ordinary” biscuit shop if there is such a thing. I felt like the sugar-plum fairy stepping into in a pink candy palace, even the lady behind the counter looked like a doll. These are biscuits for the Caviar Set, who else could possibly snap up a small tin of exquisitely hand-iced safari animals costing almost £40? You can even treat your pampered pooch to a few personalised dog biscuits . I couldn’t resist a lone lobster for Imi (it was fabulous before I crushed it in my handbag), and was helpfully advised that she could come along and decorate her own biscuit for £10! Extraordinary. It’s another, admittedly very beautiful, planet.
Ok I’m rambling now, so I’ll try more pictures and less words (oh and these pics are all ipad snaps as I couldn’t face hauling my camera around London). So here’s the menu from Bruno Loubet’s Grain Store, where I ate a very tasty dinner with my old mate Stephen. I’ve dropped my food photos as it was rather dark, so dark in fact that I could barely read the menu. It’s by no means a vegetarian restaurant but the vegetables really do shine. Highlights: the sprouting beans with miso aubergine and crispy citrus chicken skin and the rather unlikely horseradish ice cream with nasturtium leaves and a strawberry and balsamic jam.
Up early the next day for breakfast at Honey & Co on Warren St. I’ve been dying to eat there for ages, next time it will be dinner, I love the place. The Middle Eastern savoury pastries looked fabulous but I knew that I had a day of tasting ahead so I plumped for the, oh-so-much-lighter option of toasted fig, walnut and orange loaf with marmalade. Heaven.
On to Borough Market where I had planned a bit of a recce around the stalls in preparation for my debut demo there next week. The highlight was a tasting session at Brindisa, the Spanish food specialists – it was like winning Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, munching my way through piles of amazing charcuterie and cheese. The Ibérico ham was exquisite of course but I made a couple of new discoveries too. The Grazalema sheep’s cheese from Andalucia looks rather dry and unexciting but bursts into caramelly-nuttiness in your mouth, it may have become my desert island cheese. The other exciting find is the Ibérico sobrasada, a kind of spreadable chorizo that’s fully cured so you can eat it like a pâté. Some of the traditional Mallorcan sobrasada seems very greasy to me, and there’s no denying that sobrasada loaded with pork fat but this one is balanced and very, very tasty. Try to track some down, you may have to buy it online but it has a long shelf life, it’s great stirred into a bowl of lentils, stuffed into a chicken or just eaten on toast. Calabrian N’duja is a similar, spicier porky paste that’s worth looking out too.
Just before I leapt, or rather crawled, onto the tube to catch my bus home I did spot my mate Roman and definitely got a stare from a couple of his heavies when I snapped a shot of him. The things I do for you.
I’ll leave you now, after a very long post with a very quick recipe from my book. It works perfectly with a spot of sobrasada on the top.
Cheat’s creamy bean crostini
1 x 400 g/14 oz tin of cannellini, haricot or flageolet beans, drained
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon
a pinch of salt and pepper
Optional : a few leaves of parsley, basil of marjoram.
A few slices of toasted baguette
Whizz the lot up into a puree in a food processor or with a stick blender and then adjust the seasoning until you are happy. The creamed beans will be subtle but need to be balanced all the same.
Put a tablespoon of puree on each crostini, pop on a leaf or 2 of your chosen herb and then top with a teaspoon of sobrasada, harissa, tapenade, pesto or salsa verde.