Monday, 25 January 2010

Beak Street Bacaro

A "bacaro" is a Venetian tapas style place. A place to enjoy a drink and some small plates of various bits and bobs. The sort of bar come restaurant that I wish I lived round the corner from. It just so happens one has opened on Soho's Beak Street. So being in the smoke for a few days I had to see what it was like.

Polpo operate a no booking system for dinner and being impatient in a queue we decided to book for lunch. A long L-shaped bar strewn with people merrily eating and drinking, greets you as you enter. We were led to our table, at the impossibly small rear of the restaurant, with elbows firmly tucked in to avoid knocking a glass of prosecco out of someones hand. After a short browse of the menu we ordered an array of dishes to get a real feel for the food. Prices range from just over a quid to around seven pounds for the bigger main course style dishes. We started with a few "Cicheti"to go with our glasses of Bellini.  Anchovy and chickpea crostini, salt cod on grilled polenta, two crunchy arancini (deep fried risotto balls filled with melting mozzarella) and a Tapenade and Tomato mini pizza. All the dishes were good but the mini pizza was excellent. 

We were advised by the friendly waiter to stop ordering any more mains after our fifth. These included pork belly with hazelnuts and radicchio, split pea and prosciutto risotto, cotechino with cabbage and mustard, slow cooked duck with tomato and olives, fritto misto of sea food and a side of spinach with garlic and chilli. It really wasn't as ridiculous amount of food as it sounds. All the dishes are served on side plates and we shared everything, although I "shared" a little bit more than my girlfriend. My favourite dish was the fritto misto, a mound of squid, anchovies and prawns deep fried in a thin batter. No two words excite me more on a menu than "fritto misto" and this example didn't disappoint. 

I finished my meal with a wedge of orange and almond cake and a double espresso. The coffee being one of the few down sides to a very good lazy lunch.

Memorable: The relaxed sharing plates concept and reasonable prices ( all that food and drink for £65!)

Forgettable: Coffee and the irritating me, me, me woman who was sat too close to ignore.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


Polpette, or meatballs, are vastly underrated. My first experience of these savoury spheres was from a Campbell's tin. Yum! And I'm sure alot of people who have had hunger pangs whilst traipsing round the famous Scandinavian furniture stores, have eaten a plate of their Swedish meatballs. Italian Americans in New York tend to eat theirs as " spageddi n meatbawls".  They are cheap to make and the sauce you cook them in can be tossed with some pasta as a first course. This recipe will serve six if you serve pasta first.

Mix 500g each of minced beef and pork along with 100g bread crumbs, 2 eggs, handful of freshly grated parmesan, chopped parsley or sage and a good dose of salt and pepper. Make sure the mix is well combined before shaping into balls as large or small as you desire. Roll the balls in some semolina and transfer to a tray dusted with more semolina and place in the fridge to firm up while you make your sauce.
To make the sauce, fry a large red onion in a good glug of olive oil until soft in a casserole style pan. Then add one clove of garlic crushed or finely chopped. Add two tins of plum tomatoes whizzed up till smooth or some passata and bring to a steady simmer. The next thing to do is to fry your polpetti to get a nice crust before adding to your sauce. You will probably have to this in batches as overloading the pan will stop a crust from developing. When all the polpetti have been added to the sauce, turn the heat down to a low bubble and leave to slowly cook for a couple of hours covered with a lid. Before serving test the sauce for seasoning, I sometimes add a swig of red wine vinegar to sharpen the flavours. Dish up a few balls with a slick of the meaty sauce. A dusting of parmesan is optional, I don't bother!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Cry me a River

It seems fitting that the first restaurant I am writing about is the very place that inspired me to take food seriously.

 From browsing the books to watching the TV series, I had wanted to visit the River Cafe for years. When I finally ate there in 2007, with my girlfriend for my birthday, it was love at first site.
So on a cold, damp Saturday in January I took my Mum to show her what all the fuss was about.

Situated in Hammersmith a stones throw from the Thames, it is nicely away from the day trippers and walking billboards that clutter the streets in the west end. After a bit of a walk from the underground you suddenly stumble across a place that, from the outside, looks more art studio than foodie mecca. Friendly staff are on hand when you enter to hide away sodden outerwear and guide you to your table. That's when the sensory overload begins. Dotted among the intense royal blue carpet are tables packed with chatty people sharing pagnotta bread, langoustines, Chianti or whatever else happens to be on the twice daily changing menu. Like all good restaurants the soundtrack to the room is laughter, talking and the clattering of knives and forks. Directly ahead as you enter, at the far side, is the wood burning oven that dominates the room. Chefs busily preparing fresh pastas and chargrilling goodies, can be seen in the kitchen that is open for all to see. We took our seats, ordered an aperitvo of prosecco with pomegranate and tried to achieve the near on impossibility of choosing what to eat. We both ordered antipasti, primi and secondi in true Italian style. I plumped for the deep fried artichokes, a Jewish speciality from Rome, and Mum went for the chargrilled squid. Both dishes were a lesson in letting great ingredients speak for themselves. The artichokes were crisp on the outside and soft in the middle and enlivened by a last minute squeeze of lemon. Mum's squid was soft but toothsome and woken up with chopped chillies, a perfect combo. Pasta was then served in the guise of Pappardelle with slow cooked game and Linguine with crab. Both pastas were expertly turned out, being both silky and lightly dressed, exactly how you eat pasta in Italy.  A bit of a pause was most welcome as we prepared ourselves for dishes of chargrilled lamb and wood roasted turbot. The lamb came with borlotti beans and roasted pumpkin, but what made the dish sing was the addition of a warm olive sauce. My turbot was seasoned with marjoram and capers and roasted in the intense heat of the wood oven. Served along with garlic and mint stuffed artichokes and spinach, it managed to be both light and intensely flavored. Although at this point we were bursting at the seams, we couldn't resist a pud and went for the lemon tart. This dish summed up all I love about the River Cafe. Dished up on a plate in a big wedge with a dollop of rich creme fraiche, it didn't need the unnecessary dusting of icing sugar or sprig of mint. The tart was sharp with lemon but smooth with egg, like a  great lemon curd. The pastry was crumbly and dissolved in the mouth. After an espresso and a cup of tea we settled the bill and embarked on a much needed walk along the Thames to reflect on a superb meal.

 If only I could eat here all day everyday. Then I know I would  die having eaten my perfect last meal. If you ever get the chance, go! Then you can see what all the fuss is about.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Chickpeas and Lamb

I put chickpeas before lamb in the title of this post because of the extra effort it takes to cook dried chickpeas. It is the same with any of the dried legumes and pulses. And if you try this I hope you will agree the effort is worth it. I used the method from the latest River Cafe book.
The hard work for the lamb was already done before I bought it, by the incredible organic farm shop just up the road. 
500g Dried Chickpeas (look for a use by date as distant as possible)
2 Peeled potatoes
Bulb of Garlic
Soak the chickpeas for 24 hours with one of the peeled potatoes. The acid in the potatoes helps to soften the skin. The following day you drain the chickpeas and discard the potato. Put the chickpeas into a large pan and cover generously with cold water, the other peeled potato, a big sprig of rosemary and half the bulb of garlic unpeeled. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender. This depends on the age of the chickpeas, but it should be between 1 and 1 and a half hours. When they are soft and buttery, drain them and discard the potato, garlic and rosemary. Warm another sprig or two of rosemary and the rest of the unpeeled garlic cloves with some olive oil in a pan to infuse the oil. Add the drained chickpeas and sizzle over a low heat while you deal with the lamb.
The piece of Lamb I used was from the top of the leg. I got the butcher to remove the bone and butterfly it ready for the char grill. I remove the lamb from the fridge a good hour before I start to cook it. Get the char grill heating up for a good ten minutes on a high heat, so it is searingly hot and heat the oven to its highest temperature. Then season the lamb well with salt, pepper and rub it over with olive oil. Wack the lamb on the char grill and leave well alone for a good few minutes to develop a good savoury crust. Turn it once and char the other side, before sticking it in the oven on a tray for around ten minutes. This should give you meat that is a beautiful rosy pink. Let it rest before slicing while you get the rest of the meal ready.
When i cook this sort of meal I usually just serve some braised greens. Either spring greens, cavolo nero, chard or in my dream world an Italian green called cime di rape. I blanch the greens until tender, then toss in a pan with oil and any number of flavorings. Dried chilli, salted anchovies and garlic to name a few. Bitter greens work particularly well with these punchy seasonings, as do acids such as wine vinegars and lemon. 
After the lamb has rested for a good ten minutes pop it back into the oven you have warmed your plates in, to bring the meat back up to temperature. Slice the meat and serve with the greens and chickpeas. 

Friday, 8 January 2010



 Welcome to my Blog. A blog about living, breathing and sleeping all things edible. I am a twenty something male, living in North Norfolk UK.

 I have dedicated my life to all things food. Italian in particular. I eat it, cook it, read it, smell it, watch it, dream it, lust after it. 

 By writing this blog I am hoping to spread the word that great food is a right, NOT a privilege. I am going to record some recipes of dishes that I cook regularly. As well as offer my views on the restaurants and other eating establishments I visit. Be it in Norfolk, London or anywhere else for that matter.

 I am hoping to add photos as well, as soon as I learn how!!

 PS. apologies in advance for spelling and punctuation mistakes.