Sunday 29 April 2012

Pizarro in Bermondsey Street, another great restaurant in London Bridge

I've told you about Jose on Bermondsey Street in London Bridge, which I love. Jose is teeny tiny, so the same people opened another restaurant about 5 months ago, just down the road. It's called Pizarro and we went there yesterday, because waiting 45min for a table in a room the size of my living room (which isn't big) with lots of people constantly trying to get past, isn't much fun. We had to wait for a table at Pizarro too, but there is room to stand and have a drink here
We drank those lovely wines down there. The first one was smooth and oily almost, the second really flavoursome and flowery. Both were beautiful and reasonably priced
The menu here is more like a normal restuarant menu with starters and main courses - I guess they wanted a point of difference between the two restaurants. But we still ate it tapas-style by ordering three starters and one main course between us, and asking for it all as it came - that's whenever the chef chose to make it. It's a nice, relaxed way to eat, and cook too I presume, as the chef doesn't have to worry about timings
To be completely fair, as we always try to be in our family, my brother, myself and my dad all chose one starter, then we agreed on the larger dish together. We then proceeded to have a lengthy argument about vodka. We ate prawns with razor clams (that's it up there half eaten, testimony to how tasty it was), cod tongue, lamb's tongue (I think, it may have been calf's) and pig's cheek. I have no idea what the cod tongue actually was, as I presume that cod fish don't have tongues, and if they did they would be the size of pine nuts, and not the large slices of tender fish we had. Perhaps it means gills... I do recall having this thought process at another time, and it did have a positive conclusion, yet I forget what it was... but whatever we ate, it was delicious. All of it. I highly recommend coming here if you're ever in the area. The bill for three people came to just under £100. The vodka argument was resolved with the promise of a blind vodka tasting. A set of rules has been agreed, as was the place and the date - late September, Eastbourne. Watch this space

Tuesday 24 April 2012

End of the Cider Season in the Basque Country

I know, I know I've just returned from Lanzarote, started a new job, so what on earth am I doing in Basque Country? Having the time of my life actually, but yes it does seem like everything happens at once in my life. Months and months of waiting, sadness, the no man's land as I came to think of that period in my life, then suddenly it's a as if everything blooms at once, and every part is full to the brim. Life's kind of magical. Basque Country is at the top of Spain and at the bottom of France for anyone who's not entirely sure. I have been asked this a lot recently, yet I can't bring myself to call this Spain because the people do not consider themselves to be Spanish. This place is the complete opposite of Lanzarote - green and lush, which also means that, like our green and pleasant land, it rains a lot here too. But nothing could spoil our weekend. The night in a Cider House near San Sebastian was the cherry on the cake for me. I've wanted to do this ever since my friend Unai told me about it years ago! 
Because it is so young, the cider needs to be poured from far away to get the bubbles in it, and you only have a little amount in your glass at one time. When anyone at your table finishes drinking, they shout "Txotx" (pronounced "choch", not to be confused with "chochi" as our friend did, which is a rude word). Throughout the night you get brought plates of food. In every cider house, it's different stuff depending on what they have. There are no chairs, just tables, and there is no choice. We started with a melt-in-your-mouth cod omelet, then had two different types of cod (one with sauce, one with peppers), because we couldn't decide which we preferred so the waiter said he'd bring us both, succulent steak, followed by cheese with membrillo (quince paste) with walnuts. Everything fresh, locally grown and reared. All the kind of food that I love. This is clearly rustic, country food, yet I think that there's an elegance to eating like this, one that comes from simplicity and confidence

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Classic with a twist in Lanzarote - a restaurant recommendation

Having read my last blog post, a friend said that if they were Lanzarote they would feel hurt, which made me feel sad for the poor, bleak little island. The truth is that I had a brilliant holiday with my family, it's just the landscape was not to my taste. The holiday itself was a gift - swimming in the sea every day, working hard on that vitamin D deficiency, playing tennis, hiking across the barren hills, eating lots of fruit, vegetables and fish. All of this before starting the new job that I've been waiting for. Spring has brought me gifts, and I'm feeling very lucky and happy right now
One of the highlights of the Lanzarote trip was dinner here - El Mirador at the edge of the Marina in Playa Blanca. You could easily come here just for the views and atmosphere. Then it turns out that the food is world-class and you have yourself the perfect couple of hours watching the sun set over the sea while trying all sorts of delicious morsels. Here, you get classic dishes cooked with plenty of imagination. For example, black pudding with apple came in sweet dumpling form, sprinkled with icing sugar. Next to it are the cod balls, also tasty but not any competition for the black pudding dumplings, which are one of those dishes I will remember for the rest of my life. I'm not exaggerating
Another stand-out dish - my mum's prawn and mushroom risotto had an interesting flavour to it, which I guessed to be orange blossom water. I have no idea if my guess was correct or not, as the English speaking waiter was nowhere to be seen at this point, so I couldn't ask
The restaurant focuses on tapas and rice dishes, so it's not typical Canarian food. We weren't given the red and green mojo sauces for example, which are a staple everywhere you go around these parts. And no shriveled potatoes either (I'm not being unkind, that's really what they're called). It's not a cheap place, as you can imagine, but neither is it incredibly expensive (a meal for four with tip and drinks came to 135 Euros). The family who own this place hail from Barcelona, so you can imagine the style - sophisticated and slightly avante-garde. Not my kind of island but definitely my kind of restaurant

Saturday 14 April 2012

From Lanzarote with Love

I can't say that I love Lanzarote. I find this volcanic and barren landscape oppressive
But the people are sweet. And you have to admire their perserverence when it comes to wine, because it can't be easy growing anything here. They produce wine in the region of La Geria, succeeding mainly in refreshing, mineraly whites from what I can tell
By stroke of luck, we stayed in the Papagayo region, a short trek from the most beautiful beaches on the island
And I discovered these...
They're my new favourite crisps - a cross between Polish 'Flipsy' corn snacks (like massive 'Whatsits') and buttered popcorn, yet in appealing bird-like shapes
Talking of birds, the pigeons are pretty cool here too

Sunday 8 April 2012

Brunch at the Hoxton Hotel

...Is a really good idea
My mate Mike's girlfriend organized a surprise birthday brunch for him last weekend and we had a brilliant afternoon
There are three brunch options - an English one, a continental one and a massive one. We had the continental, with the addition of waffles (which brought it up to £17 per head plus drinks). Another one of  Louise's amazing ideas. I wish she was my girlfriend
We washed down the pastries, fruit salad, bagels and waffles with Bloody Mary's and Prosecco. The birthday boy had a Porn Star Martini. Of course

Saturday 7 April 2012

Spring salad under the cherry blossoms

Last year, a tradition started - though to be fair, the Japanese have been doing it for centuries - of a picnic under the cherry blossoms. Then, we bought lots of lovely things from the deli next to Victoria Park and drank sangria. This time I wanted to make something to welcome the Spring, as she's been so kind to me already this year
Vietnamese Spring rolls instantly sprung to mind (excuse the pun), but in the end I decided that it was going to take me too long to source the ingredients. We knew the sunshine was a gift, one that could disappear at any time, so we were all trying to get to the park as speedily as possible
So I took all the stuff I love about Vietnamese Spring rolls and made it into a Spring Salad. It literally took 5min to grate the carrot and cucumber, make the dressing, and toss it all together, so it's the perfect salad for a spur-of-the-moment picnic when you're desperate to catch a few precious rays 
Ingredients (serves 5-6 as a snack)

Rice noodles, cooked and cooled (aprox 400g)
Cucumber, grated
2 carrots, finely grated
2 green chillies, chopped
Peanuts (as many as you like), toasted on dry frying pan
Bunch of coriander, chopped
3 Tblsp fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime
The sangria has quickly become an obligatory part of proceedings. Cherry blossom picnic wouldn't be the same without it. Even when it starts getting chilly and you're wrapped in blankets, the sangria reminds you why you are here - the Summer's coming

Sunday 1 April 2012

Red Amaranth with bonito flakes

I was killing some time in an Asian supermarket yesterday, and came across some pretty purple leaves called "red amaranth". Luckily, there was a description of what to do with them - the Chinese use red amaranth as a vegetable in stir-fries, whereas the Vietnamese make soups out of it. But I wanted to go for a more Japanese flavour...
So I stir-fried it with garlic and Japanese Sukiyaki sauce, and served it with whole grain rice with bonito flakes on top. It was not only delicious but also incredibly good for you, so if you come across it, I urge you to not feel intimidated and just give it a pop
Don't you just love Japanese packaging? That's the bonito flakes up there, which are basically silky little threads of dried tuna. Delicious on top of everything. Apart from puddings perhaps
And the Sukiyaki sauce is a blend of soya sauce and red wine with a few other little things chucked to make it super tasty. Every time I go into an Asian supermarket I always discover something new!