Archive for June 2011

José, Bermondsey

June 24th, 2011 — 8:01am

I was having a conversation on Twitter yesterday about the restaurant Apsley’s. I didn’t like it. I believe I described it as ‘wanky’, ‘over-priced’ (£30-£40 a main course anyone?) and ‘over-fussed’ (I’m being kind – one starter came on 9 separate plates). This sparked off another conversation with a friend about restaurant preferences in general. He asked me, innocently, “you really wouldn’t go to these places (like Apsley’s), even out of curiosity, if money was literally no object?” I couldn’t say ‘NO’ fast enough or with enough emphasis to really sum up the strength of my feeling on the matter and let’s face it, Gmail chat isn’t the easiest medium to communicate a ‘NO’ bearing the force of splenetic juices, unhinged fury, fires of hell and vein-popping frustration. Well you know, I feel quite strongly about it.

My point is that people have different restaurant preferences, which aren’t entirely dependent on whether or not they can bloody afford it. Not everyone wants to go around ticking off the most expensive places like collecting notches on the bedpost. Every few months I go to The Ledbury. This is because it’s a brilliant restaurant; simply outstanding cooking . I fork out the money because I want to go there, as I could with any restaurant in London if I fancied it. I don’t.

The day my friend and I ate at Apsley’s, we also ate at José (Pizarro). It’s a ham and sherry bar, which is so much more up my alley I can’t begin to tell you. It’s a small space on Bermondsey Street with a bar, a few stools dotted about and a couple of chefs beavering away in an open kitchen. The chatter is loud and the laughter unrestrained. We settled in for Manzanilla and snacks.

Croquetas de jamón. I was shocked when I bit into the first. No ham?! Turns out I was just unlucky. In my second the cheesy filling wibbled around hammy jewels. Very good croquetas, although not quite on par with those I ate at Barrafina earlier in the week.

Jamón Ibérico was to die for, as ever; nutty fat slowly, slowly melting away…sigh. The carving was really quite something as you can see from the top photo. I’ve had a go at this myself at Brindisa and let me tell you, it’s not easy.

Having already packed away 3 courses we were really only after a nibble but a special of ‘Pluma Iberica‘ with piquillo pepper was so intriguing it duly got ordered. We looked at it, at each other and back at the plate, a mixture of fear and excitement brewing. Could we eat rare pork? The waiter reassured us of the quality and in we plunged. It had the plancha-charred initial taste and silken texture of rare steak then a deep pork flavour that somehow didn’t make your brain go “argh, raw pig, I’m going to die!”

So that was José; a few snacks effortlessly trumping an earlier elaborate 3 course meal. Fantastic ingredients, served simply and modestly. Of course these two places have completely different aspirations but that’s not my problem. All I have to do is decide where to spend my money. José wins every time.

104 Bermondsey Street
Tel: 0207 403 4902

José on Urbanspoon

28 comments » | Bars/Pubs, Restaurant Reviews

Focaccia Pugliese with ricotta

June 23rd, 2011 — 7:59am

I recently spent a week in Puglia with 7 mates and 1 boyfriend. We cooked, ate and drank a lot in between lying around talking about cooking, eating and drinking. Before we left I’d read up on the food and came across what is apparently a classic recipe for focaccia with tomatoes pressed into the top. We didn’t find any there so I thought I’d have a bash myself; the ricotta is my own twist.

As the bread rises, the tomatoes roast and sweeten (after eating tomatoes in Puglia I’m not sure I could eat a raw one in this country ever again). The ricotta didn’t have quite enough time to disintegrate into little white heaps as it usually does but that didn’t matter at all. It was like a giant, fluffy, highly savoury pizza with bursts of juice from the tomatoes and creamy, crumbly patches of cheese. Make sure to sprinkle liberally with flaky sea salt crystals – if there’s one thing the people of Puglia aren’t scared of using, it’s salt.

Focaccia Pugliese with Ricotta

225g potatoes
1 1/4 teaspoons fast action dried yeast
375ml warm water
400g strong white bread flour
1 teaspoons salt

For the topping

1 teaspoon dried oregano
250g ricotta
15 cherry tomatoes, halved
Sea salt for sprinkling
Olive oil, for sprinkling

Boil, drain and mash the potatoes. While they are boiling, mix the yeast with the warm water in a large mixing bowl and set aside to activate (you will know when this has happened because the top will be slightly frothy).

Mix the flour, salt and potatoes together. When the yeast-water mix is ready, add the potato-flour mix to it, in two halves. Combine everything, turn it out and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Set the dough aside in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and wait until doubled in size. Divide the dough in half then shape into 2 balls. Put each on a lightly oiled baking tray (the one you will be using to cook it) and stretch it out into a rectangle. There is no need to stretch it thinly, just make a rectangle shape and leave it for 10 minutes. After this time stretch it a little further. Let rise until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200c/Gas6/400F. Press the tomatoes lightly into the top of each focaccia, sprinkle with the oregano and sea salt. Use your fingers to sprinkle all over with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven, dollop with the ricotta and bake for another 5. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

12 comments » | Bread

Places to eat and drink in Peckham this summer

June 19th, 2011 — 5:00pm

The Gin and Lamb Pop-up Cafe

On the weekend of 24th-26th June Son Gallery will host The Gin and Lamb. It’s located on top of Peckham’s famous Bussey Building which offers a stunning view over London. The cafe will be serving, you’ve guessed it, gin and lamb. The former will be provided by G & J Greenall and the latter will be cooked by Xhon at Frog on The Green deli (ex-chef at The Square). There will also be Copeland Book Market plus music, photography and art exhibitions – all mixed up with that unique Peckham energy. You can’t beat it. Press release below (see it bigger on Flickr).

The Gin and Lamb at Son Gallery
Unit 9C, 133 Copeland Road
SE15 3SN

Frank’s Campari Bar

Frank’s Campari Bar will be back on the roof of the multi-storey car park from 1st July to 30th September along with the Bold Tendencies exhibition. It really is a fun experience drinking Campari cocktails on top of a multi-storey car park in the middle of pumping Peckham. Others agree – it received a whopping 45,000 visitors in 2010.

Frank’s Campari Bar
10th Floor, Peckham Multi-Storey Car Park
95a Rye Lane (next to the cinema)
SE15 4ST

The Meatwagon at The Rye

The Rye Pub are serving Meatwagon burgers and other goodies such as this incredibly good smoked pork sandwich (below) which comes with BBQ sauce and slaw plus a smoked beef carpaccio and a ‘mushroom double Swiss’ – a new burger with sliced mushrooms oozing around in loads of melted Swiss cheese.

The Rye
31 Peckham Rye
SE15 3NX
(Meatwagon food available until September I believe)

Dinner at Anderson & Co.

Cafe/deli Anderson’s do a weekly evening dinner on a Wednesday (BYO booze) and also host evenings with other local cooks including Sally Butcher from Persepolis. I went to the first one and it was brilliant, read about it here.

Anderson & Co.
139 Bellenden Rd

Other Food Shops and Restaurants

I’ve made a list of Peckham’s best food shops here, a nifty little map of places to eat and drink here and you can find all posts about local restaurants on my Peckham page here.

Enjoy the ‘summer’!

5 comments » | Bars/Pubs, Markets, Peckham, Pop-up Restaurants, Shops

Book Review: Food Britannia

June 16th, 2011 — 2:06pm

I don’t often review books on this blog. Although I may enjoy a cook book, I rarely feel the need to jump up and tell people about it; often someone else has done it already, better. What someone else has not done already however, is write a more impressive book about British food than Andrew Webb has done with Food Britannia.

I should say right off that Andrew Webb is a friend of mine. You can therefore choose to believe that what I write here is my true opinion, or not. Let me say to you this however: I spend a great deal of time and energy writing in this space; I take a lot of pride in maintaining the integrity of it and I won’t ever tell you about something unless I feel it is of value. Caveat ends.

Food Britannia is like an encyclopaedia of British food (Encyclopaedia of Food Brittanica?) but with less of the scholarly padding and a lot more warmth and fun. I first met Andrew on the journey that sparked the idea for the book – it was called The Big British Food Map, a commission for Channel 4 which took him 11,500 miles around the country looking for the best grub going. At the end of the journey he found he couldn’t stop; he needed to fill in the gaps, find the producers undiscovered, from one-man-bands to well known brands.

This diversity in the book pleases me. I’m learning of new products to seek out and try; top of this list comes the ‘Sloe Tavy’ (above), an aged goat’s milk cheese whose rind is washed in Plymouth Sloe Gin. Cheese? Goood. Sloe gin? Goood. There are now many pink stickies peeking from the top of pages marked for my later attention – lardy cake; Somerset cider brandy; the Manchester sausage. There’s a list of suppliers in the back.

Among the new I relished the familiar: Marmite, Irn-Bru and my personal favourite, the WHAM bar. Anyone who grew up in the UK in the 1980’s remembers this tooth-extracting, space-dust studded chew bar. I got through my local newsagent’s stock with gusto and the bars in turn steadily made their way through my milk teeth.

There’s a London section too, which of course pleases me greatly. Franco Manca pizza; pie and mash with liquor; Sipsmith; The Ginger Pig and Heinz baked beans. Did you know Heinz beans grew up in Peckham? Me neither. I’m pleased to see jerk getting a mention too, not least because it’s a quote from yours truly. My favourite jerk joint at the time was Smokey Jerkey in New Cross. It’s now Caribbean Spice Jerk Centre but hey, times they change.

Food Britannia is the kind of book you dip in and out of; a coffee table book that does more than just look good. It could easily be used as a guide should you nip off on a weekend away somewhere; a handbook for the food loving adventurer. The thing that strikes me most about the book is how thoroughly well researched it is. With such a volume of entries it would be easy to skim over them but that’s just not Andrew’s style, and it shows. It’s more than a reference work, it’s a fun and engaging story of the people making quality food in this country. Considering the amount of total shit that’s put out, we should thank Andrew Webb for picking out the wood from the trees.

Food Britannia is available to buy on Amazon and at real-life book shops too.


11 comments » | Books

Eating in Puglia

June 12th, 2011 — 11:23am

I’ve just come back from a week in Puglia, specifically the Itria valley, which encompasses the provinces of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto. The area is noted for a distinctive architectural feature, the trullo; a conical shaped stone roof designed to cool in summer and insulate in winter. Our villa, Trullo Tranquillo was located just outside Ceglie Messapica in Brindisi, hidden away in a labyrinthine network of narrow dirt tracks. Being tucked away like this was not a bad thing, although it did define the way we shopped and ate while in Puglia. I thought it might be of use to others who want to visit the area if I share my experiences of shopping and eating here.

With no restaurants within walking distance of our villa and only 2 drivers among 9, all of whom harboured a desire to get drunk, opportunities to eat out were limited. Mostly we bought ingredients at local markets and cooked for ourselves. Our excursion to the town of Monopoli however, saw us busting bellies at Osteria Perricci.

There’s no menu here, an unexpected relief. Monopoli is a coastal town, so they just serve fish; “antipasti?” our host asked. We nodded. “Pasta?” Of course. “Fish? Grilled? Fried?” We ordered both.

First bruschetta, properly made. Ruby ripe tomatoes smooshed into garlic scrubbed toast. The tomatoes in Puglia are to die for.

Favourite antipasti were butterflied anchovies drenched in the ubiquitous (delicious) olive oil; meaty morsels of octopus and sweet mussels bathing in grassy pools of their own juices mixed with, you guessed it, lots of olive oil. A couple of duds didn’t spoil the fun at all; battered fish was, for me, all bready batter and little fish. Sundried tomatoes were chewy as ever, although the accompanying chunks of cucumber rocked; a sweet, round variety that tastes like a mild melon.

Huge bowls of pasta next – ‘fish’ spaghetti, predominantly octopus and squid in a tomato sauce which tasted of shellfish shells, silkily bound with cooking liquor. The second, not the Orecchiette typical of the region but similar in shape (I think Cencioni), delightfully chewy, the sauce packed with garlic and white wine, the bowl clattering with mussels and sweet clams. Chillies were added at table.

Eating was becoming more difficult. Simply grilled fish was delicious, but an effort. We picked lamely at fritto misto; I stuffed down as many tender squid rings as possible.

A refreshing lemon sorbet could not have been a more welcome finish, sitting atop sweet glazed strawberries, it saved us from passing into a food coma.

The owners don’t speak much English at Osteria Perricci but they’re very friendly and make it easy to get by with gesturing, nodding and piss poor attempts at speaking Italian. Our meal came to around €25 a head I think, including a few beers and a bottle of wine. You can walk it all off around Monopoli afterwards too; the old part of town is well worth a look.

Osteria Perricci
Via Orazio Comes, 1
70043 Monopoli Bari, Italy
080 9372208

We couldn’t visit Italy and not eat pizza. One evening 4 of us left camp to pick up some takeaway from Mamm Ce Pizza in Ceglie Messapica, reasoning that 1 pizza per person should be enough. As we sat waiting for our order it slowly dawned – they were the size of small planets. We staggered out with towering stacks, the owner following behind us; we turned to find him pointing and heartily laughing at our tiny Fiat 500. I think we made his evening. Next thing I know I’m jammed in the back, pizza boxes rammed between my face and the seat, not a millimetre to spare. Each bump in the road guffed more hot cheesy steam into the eyes. We snorted with laughter the whole journey, as did everyone who passed us.

Nice though, and cheap (€7-11 each for those monsters). The ham and ricotta was my favourite. Here’s the menu.

Mamm ce Pizz
Via Taranto, 5
Ceglie Messapica

The remainder of the time we shopped at (fairly) local food markets; some were better than others. I really hope my memory serves me correctly here because it could save you a lot of disappointment. Of the 3 we attempted to visit, only 2 were actually where they were supposed to be – those in Cisternino and Alberobello. We found stall holders at the former very friendly, at the latter a little less so, as at one point we got into a misunderstanding trying to buy figs and had to run away. Don’t let that put you off though, the majority were lovely.

I wouldn’t bother trying the market in Martina Franca; advertised in our guide book as happening ‘all day’ we failed to find anything apart from stalls selling cheap clothes and toilet rolls [Edit: see comment from Tony below; they do exist!]

All the markets carry the same stuff (seasonal, innit) and you’ll find fishmongers and butchers dotted around the towns. To find the markets, just head for the centre, it’s obvious once you arrive.

Fat, buttery green olives.

Bright pink prawns with purple heads.

Saving the shells to make pasta sauce.

Bream ready for the BBQ.

Tomato salad – one of many.


Can’t beat a mooch around a foreign supermarket.

Now I’m going on a week long detox (that’s obviously a joke, I’m really making focaccia).

25 comments » | Markets, Restaurant Reviews, Travel

Pulled Pork, Boston Baked Beans & Pickled Fennel

June 2nd, 2011 — 3:31pm

Visiting Pitt Cue Co. got me thinking about American BBQ and specifically, pulled pork. I don’t have a smoker at home but I do have a decent Weber, which is more than capable of housing a big ol’ hunk of pig shoulder for 4 hours. In she went and out she came, alarmingly black after the allotted cooking time. This is normal. The caramelised crust or ‘bark’ is sealing in the moist, fat-bathed meat.

I gave the shoulder a good rubbing 24 hours before with a shed-load of sugar, smoky chipotle flakes, orange zest and garlic plus some ground cloves and allspice because neither ever do any wrong on the grill and they sling things off in another direction. I was pleasantly surprised by how much the rub penetrated the meat and also by how edible that crust turned out to be; crunchy umami-pork-bark.

As the meat was going to take so long on the BBQ, I made use of the oven for 4 hours too, cooking Boston baked beans. They are time consuming as the beans need soaking overnight but wow, the results are worth it.

It starts, as all the best things do, with pork. I bought a piece of smoked pork belly (readily available in Peckham but smoked bacon or pancetta would substitute well), chopped it into chunks (including the rind for extra flavour) and combined it with the beans, Worcestershire sauce, spices and molasses. The molasses is the defining feature of Boston baked beans, Boston being apparently famous for producing loads of the stuff, a fact which led to the ‘Great Molasses Disaster’ in 1919. A 2,300,000 gallon storage tank collapsed, flooding the city with a black slick, killing 21 people. Wikipedia tells us the residents claim you can still catch a whiff of molasses on a hot summers’ day.

Anyway, I can’t recommend these beans enough. They have a very ‘BBQ’  flavour from the pork fat and spices and the malty sweetness of unrefined sugars means it melds into one of the most rich and satisfying dishes I’ve ever eaten; up there with rendang and Marmite on the umami scale.

Ready to go in the oven.

At the end of cooking time, a slightly scary crust has formed on top of the beans.

Breaking through the crust to a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahhhs’.

The leftovers on toast the next day. So porky. So smoky.

That white blob in the background is the pickled fennel I made to accompany the meal. Steeped in a mixture of pink peppercorns and citrus zests, it was very welcome alongside the richness of meat n beans. We wiped the plates clean with chunks of sourdough.

This was probably my favourite BBQ of the year so far, even though it rained. There’s no need to give up hope when this happens by the way, just get yourself a chair and an umbrella…

Pulled Pork (serves 2-4, depending on appetite; mine fed 4 but we had beans)

1 x bone-in pork shoulder weighing approximately 2kg
2 tablespoons chipotle flakes
Zest of 1 orange, finely chopped
200g dark brown sugar like muscovado
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 tablespoon salt

Mix all the ingredients for the rub together well, using your hands. The night before you want to cook the meat, rub it all over, liberally with the rub. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the meat from the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it. Light the BBQ and when the coals are white, bank them to one side of the grill. Place the meat on the other side so that it is not sitting directly over any coals.

Cook the meat for 4 hours. Each hour, add 8-12 more coals to the pile. This should keep the temperature fairly constant. The meat will be completely black on the outside after this time; don’t worry. Remove the meat to a plate and start pulling it apart to reveal the meat within. Use two forks to shred it. Serve.

Boston Baked Beans (serves 4 with leftovers)

500g dried white beans (I used cannelini but white kidney or haricot beans would also work)
450g piece smoked pork belly (or smoked bacon or pancetta; you want it in one piece so you can cut nice chunks), cut into chunks, including the rind.
2 tablespoons tomato puree
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Salt and pepper

In a large bowl, cover the beans with plenty of cold water, leaving room for them to double in size. Leave to soak overnight. The next day, drain and rinse the beans.

Place them in a large pan or heavy casserole dish if you have one (so you won’t have to transfer the beans when you want to put them in the oven). Cover them with water. This needs to reach 2 inches above the top of the beans. Bring to the boil and boil hard for 10 minutes, skimming off the scum. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas 1

If using a saucepan, now transfer to an ovenproof casserole. Add all the other ingredients but NO salt at this point. Cover and cook for 3 hours. After this time, taste and season carefully with salt (the pork will be salty). Cook, uncovered for a further hour.

Pickled Fennel

4 bulbs fennel
500ml white wine vinegar
3 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons sugar (or more to taste)
1 orange
1 lemon
1 scant teaspoon pink peppercorns
5 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds

Cut the fennel in half lengthways and remove the core. Slice horizontally into thin strips. Place in a colander, mix well with the salt and leave to drain for 1 hour.

Remove the zest from the lemon and orange and juice the fruits. After the fennel has finished draining, mix in the zests and pack the mix into a sterilised jar.

In a small pan combine the citrus juices, vinegar, sugar, coriander seeds and peppercorns. Heat the mixture almost to boiling point, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour this over the fennel, making sure that it is all covered. Seal and allow to cool.

54 comments » | Barbecue, Main Dishes, Meat, Pulses, Sandwiches, Vegetables

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