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Picklin’ at Rita’s

Pickling

I had fun last week at a night-time pickling workshop, put on by Sarson’s vinegar and held at Rita’s Bar & Dining in London Fields. Our hosts were food historian Peter Ginn and Rita’s chef Gabriel Pryce.

Pickling

Peter gave us a lowdown on the history of pickling as a method of preserving fresh ingredients, and talked us through all of the ingredients that can be pickled: eggs and shallots are perhaps the most well known, but any fairly firm fruit or veg is a contender.

Pickling

The brine (the vinegar liquid that does the pickling) can be flavoured with any herb or spice you like – chilli, peppercorns and mustard seeds are common, but we could also pick from lemongrass, ginger, tarragon, fennel seeds and loads more. The process is really simple: you just heat up the pickling vinegar in a pan with your chosen flavourings (Sarson’s produce big jars of vinegar especially for pickling, which are pre-seasoned and at the correct acidity of 6%), pop the ingredients in a sealable jar and pour the vinegar over the top to cover the ingredients.

Pickling
Pickling

Pickling

After we’d stuffed and labelled our jars we sat down to a delicious meal put on by Rita’s – platters of fried chicken, amazing mac and cheese, sweet potato gnocchi, slaw and their own pickled hot sauce. Must come back here soon for a full meal because it was tasting gooood.

Pickling

Here’s my rather odd concoction – quail’s eggs, plums and mooli (Japanese radish) in a brine heavily spiked with chilli and mustard seeds. The proof is in the tasting, but it needs three weeks to do its thing first… I’ll report back.

Thanks to Rita’s and Sarson’s for a fab and informative night.

Three non-boring (non-)salads

salads

I’ve been trying to get back into some healthy wheat-light cooking lately, and have recently made several twists on that summery staple, the salad. My definition of salad is pretty loose as I don’t really like leaves: for me a salad means any combination of cooked and raw vegetables together with a carb and a protein element, all soused in a zingy, spicy dressing. Oh, and usually with cheese on top – OK, they are basically the least healthy salads ever, but they are really filling which is my usual concern with having a non-heavily-carb-based dinner.

pinnedsalads

I like to start with a recipe (I have lots pinned) and adapt it to my taste and what I have available in the fridge, freezer and cupboard: having a few basics in stock means you can make a substantial meal even when the veg drawer looks a bit sad and empty. Here are a couple I’ve put together in the last few weeks…

fattoush salad

A sort-of-not-really take on fattoush, the middle-eastern bread and tomato salad.
Veg: Raw tomatoes and courgette, roasted sweet red pepper
Protein: Canellini beans, toasted off in a frying pan
Carb: Toasted pitta bread
Dressing: Garlic, red wine vinegar, sumac, olive oil
Cheese: Feta

mexican salad

My infinitely tastier version of the sad non-carb Mexican salad bowls you get from burrito places when you’re trying to be saintly. Liquid smoke* is a salad’s best friend for a bit of umami punch – a little goes a long way.
Veg: Toasted corn (from the freezer), pink pickled onions (in the fridge from a previous day), raw tomatoes
Protein: Black beans, Quorn fillet
Carb: Mix of brown and white rice
Dressing: Wahaca habanero sauce, liquid smoke, smoked paprika, fresh coriander (from the freezer).
Cheese: Feta

lentil salad

This is a standby dinner for us: smoky lentils, charred veggies and soft cool mozzarella, marinated in the same dressing as the lentils. It’s also brilliant with pan- or oven-roasted wedges of squash.
Veg: Grilled tenderstem broccoli and spring onions, plus babaghanoush (charred aubergine puree)
Protein: Puy lentils
Carb: None
Dressing: Olive oil, red wine vinegar, liquid smoke, oak-smoked tomatoes, oregano, chilli flakes
Cheese: Mozzarella

* Liquid smoke is my favourite condiment EVER. I have no idea how they make it, but a drop or two imparts an amazing smoky flavour to anything you drop it into. Really good for giving veggie food that ‘meaty’ umami punch. Not many supermarkets have it, but you can buy online at Sous Chef.

Review: DF Mexico

DF Mexico

DF Mexico is the latest creation from the stable of London-based Mexican stalwart Wahaca. It takes the same Mexican-street-food-with-an-Anglo-American-twist concept and goes a bit hipster on it to match its location bang in the middle of Shoreditch in the Old Truman Brewery. Every aspect is ramped up in the cool factor: the branding and interior decor are boldly industrial, food is counter service, drinks are self-serve and bottomless… even the social media team is sharp and well-pitched. If you were being cheesy you could call it Wahaca’s younger, cooler brother or something. Naturally it wasn’t going to be long before I found myself there, and that day came on Monday evening.

DF Mexico

It seems to have got off to a flying start, with a short queue at the door even on a Monday and a lively buzz around the dining room. There’s a huge communal table next to the obligatory open-plan kitchen and plenty of smaller tables and booths, so the wait to be seated wasn’t long.

DF Mexico
DF Mexico

The concept is explained via a cool brochure and the menu reads very well indeed. Unlike Wahaca, the food isn’t tapas-sized but built for large appetites and/or sharing. The main offerings are burritos, large tacos, tortas, build-your-own boards, grills and salads, with a (un)healthy sprinkling of sides and sharing dishes too. The hardest part is deciding what to go for.

DF Mexico

Obviously, we massively over-ordered just to get a little taster of a few things. The Bad Boy burrito comes with white and blue corn chips and an optional side for a couple of quid extra. It packed quite the whack of flavour, with tomato and habanero running through the rice and a core of tasty feta cheese, all wrapped in a chargrilled tortilla.

DF Mexico

A side of veggie nachos was huge for just £4.95 and was similarly punchy. The topping of refried beans, cheese, pink onions and salsa wiggled into the all the gaps in the chips so you didn’t get that disappointing moment when you run out of topping before chips. Not that we got near to that point; it was too big to finish!

DF Mexico

Chilli fries were ordered just because, but they were probably my favourite thing: properly salty and hot with a chipotle dip on the side. The cup of corn, sweetly served in a teacup, sat in a creamy puddle of moreish broth and was topped with tangy Lancashire cheese.

DF Mexico

Self-serve bottomless horchata cooled it all down nicely. There’s also soft-serve ice cream for dessert, but we rolled out defeated before considering it.

The bill for this feast? Like Wahaca it’s a real bargain: just £22.50 for a large main, smaller sharing dish, two sides and two bottomless soft drinks. My only critique is I actually wish the portions were a bit smaller more like Wahaca, so you can mix/match and share easier. It’s pretty great to have this place pretty close to home for when I get peckish for big, bad Mexican flavours, and I can’t imagine it’ll be long before I’m back again to try more of the menu and soak up more of the DF vibes (also I’m working nearby and they do take-out…). Nice job, chaps.

Afternoon tea with Truly

Tea at The Capital

Picking special presents year after year can be a bit of a pain, especially when you’re like us and have no room left in your flat for any more physical objects! That’s why I love giving and receiving ‘experiences’ instead: dinner, cooking classes, something that you can enjoy and/or learn from rather than accumulating more stuff. So when Truly contacted me I was pretty excited. Their premise is great: you pick from a fantastic range of do-able gifts – especially strong on restaurants and food experiences but there are spa days, city breaks and outdoor activities too. Put in your recipient’s address and they get a lovely smart box in the post with a simple number/email to contact Truly’s concierge and make the reservation. No messing around booking something and hoping they are free on the date (or ruining the surprise by asking), but you can still pick out something personal.

Tea at The Capital

Truly kindly gave me the chance to try one of their experiences out, and I opted for Champagne Afternoon Tea at the Capital Hotel. I invited my wonderful mum along because she’s a little envious of all the nice things Josh and I do in London, so it was great to be able to share something with her. She was delighted to get the box in the post and phoned me immediately to say thank you! She was down in London last weekend so we got the chance to book it up.

Tea at The Capital

The Capital hotel is literally around the corner from Harrods. I’d never ever been in Harrods before, so a nose round the food hall was mandatory (wow, it’s busy in there). Tea is served in a pretty and cosy sitting room – with wallpaper and books lining the walls and a window open to the pleasant day outside it was a lovely place to spend the afternoon. We started with a glass of champagne while browsing the extensive tea menu.

Tea at The Capital

Before long a tiered stand laden with goodies arrived. Delicate finger sandwiches on the bottom and a whole plate of sweet things for each of us – treacle tart, passion fruit tart, lemon sponge, baby trifle and a hibiscus maracon. They were all delicious – the moist sponge and creamy tart especially. If you run out or particularly enjoyed anything, the waiters will gladly restock it for you.

Tea at The Capital

There was only one vegetarian sandwich but I didn’t even think to ask for a replacement; I’m sure they would have switched one of the others for a veggie option if requested. Never mind, more room for cake!

Tea at The Capital

Just when we were reaching peak cake, freshly baked scones arrived with cream and jam. They were so buttery and flaky – my Devon-raised mum approved. You can even pack up anything you don’t eat into takeout boxes.

Tea at The Capital

One happy mum and some serious daughter points for me! This was a great experience and my mum really appreciated it. Truly have this and loads of other luxurious gift experiences on their site including lots of Michelin-starred restaurants like The Square, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (which I reviewed here), Hakkasan and La Manoir. Any would do for my birthday present, in case you’re wondering. Thanks, Truly! Anyone else love to give or receive foody gifts?

Truly supplied my afternoon tea experience for review; views are my own

A Vegetarian tasting menu at L’Atelier Joel Robuchon

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

I apologise for it being blogger-perk frenzy round here at the moment. I’ve had a good run lately! The latest was the chance to try the tasting menu with matching wine selection at Michelin-starred restaurant L’Atelier Joel Robuchon, on the borders of Covent Garden and Soho, where a new executive chef (Xavier Boyer) and pastry chef (Francois Delaire) have just been appointed.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

We started by going up the first floor for a delicious cocktail in the plushy bar. There’s a lovely terrace which on this warm evening was full.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

Downstairs, we were seated at the central bar with a view directly into the working kitchen. Quite uniquely for a Michelin restaurant, the food is informally served by the bar staff/waiters, as was the wine for each course. I really liked this less stuffy approach and our waiters were relaxed and funny – a nice change from formal fine dining.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

In what must be a first, L’Atelier Joel Robuchon is a Michelin-starred French restaurant with a vegetarian tasting menu. Gosh, I do love the treat of seeing a list of delicious-sounding food where I can eat all of it!

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

Each course was beautifully dainty and almost too pretty to eat. It was a real ode to the humble and lovely vegetable, whether a mushroom whipped into a silky veloute or an heirloom tomato simply dressed and served zingily red in a martini glass with pickles and flowers.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

Asparagus with comte; a beautiful girolle and truffle risotto; crisped glazed tofu with wild mushrooms. It was all perfectly pitched and a delight to eat. Unlike some tasting menus, the pacing and portion size were spot on: it never felt like an onslaught and I didn’t feel uncomfortably full at the end.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

Josh went for the omnivore tasting menu; he declared the ox cheek gyoza to be a particular standout dish. Personally I loved the blingy gold toast rack and gilt leaf on the caviar and salmon starter.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

As a special side we were given some of the infamous Robuchon pommes puree, made with 50% butter to 50% potato. Jeez, I could feel my arteries furring up as I ate it but it is just so good I didn’t care.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

The dainty portions meant we had space for dessert, hurrah. Josh’s was a beautiful physics-defying orb of shiny gold, with a delicate citrus mousse inside.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

I had an equally gorgeous concoction; light as air milk chocolate mousse with bitter dark chocolate sorbet and Oreo crumbs.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

Each course was matched with the sommelier’s selection of wine, and wow – they were all utterly amazing. I don’t know much about wine at all, but I loved how our choices featured some really unusual ones with tasting notes like smoke, mushroom, cellar, and minerals. Even the dessert wine which I don’t usually drink was a sweet, light red that was perfect with the chocolate.

This was one of the most enjoyable fine dining experiences I’ve had; partly for the superb food and partly for the unique relaxed ambiance and friendly service. For a special occasion meal I would certainly go back.

I was a guest of L’Atelier Joel Robuchon for my dinner; views my own.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon on Urbanspoon