Tuesday 30 June 2009


Cowie's parents' have got a wonderful Japonica plant that produces very attractive green and red fruit speckled with white dots. I've been told that it is part of the quince family and therefore could be suitable for making jelly. When I heard this I got pretty excited and thought I'd do some research before I went off half cocked and poisoned people...

Does anyone know if:

a. ... the fruit in the picture is a Japonica
b. ... it is edible
c. ... I can make jelly out of them
d. ... there are any other recipes that we can try

If you can help I'd be hugely appreciative. Thanks.

Sunday 21 June 2009

Dining with Dos Hermanos at Casa Brindisa

Our evening with Dos Hermons at Casa Brindisa was a lot of fun. We feasted on the best food and booze that Spain and Jose Pizarro has to offer. We took over the whole restaurant and lapped up the procession of speeches from the assorted Spanish gourmet experts that punctuated our banquet. It's a great model for an indulgent gastronomic night out.

We started with some Manzanilla Pasada sherry, bright green Gordal olives and salted almonds which were quickly followed by some soggy bread topped with tomatoes.

Anchovies smoked and salted

Smoked and salted anchovies were a revelation. The smoked version was particularly impressive. I would be tempted to serve them at the start of an informal dinner party, or with some crunchy bread and a glass of chilled sherry.


Jamon was sinfully good. We learnt how the curing process is designed to mimic the ebb and flow of the seasons and can last for many years. This jamon was sweet, savoury, salty and plated seductively. There are few things in life more pleasurable than scoffing this stuff. There was almost a fight on our table as we all tried to guzzle more than our fair share!


Croquetas were sensational. The crispy balls were stuffed with creamy, salty cod bechamel, whilst the sausage shaped one held little jewels of jamon. I wish I could eat these all day.


Fritatta was solid. Literally. And could have done with an extra whisker of seasoning. It was perfectly decent, but nowhere near as exciting as the other dishes.

Jumbo prawns

Enormous prawns a la plancha promised to be heavenly. But despite their juiciness, they lacked the flavour I was expecting. A twist of salt and pepper fixed this pretty quickly.

Sea bass with black pudding and peppers

Sea bass with morcilla de Burgos and piquillo peppers was a great combination of deep, porkiness and soft, flaky fish. The subtle spice from the crumbly sausage mixed with irridescent white flesh is one of my favourite combinations. If I was cooking it I'd be tempted to dial up the smoky paprika spice.

Pork tenderloin

Pork tenderloin dusted with paprika was a shadow of what it could have been. It was a bit dry and for want of a more descriptive expression, dull.

Pulpo a la Gallega was excellent. A real star. The flesh was tender and the flavours vivid. It was a cracking dish. I am fast becoming a squid and octopus lover.

Cheese tempura with orange blossom honey

A tempura of artisan Monte Enebro goat's cheese dressed with orange blossom honey was awesome. It's a great way of bypassing the issue of whether to have pudding or cheese first. Just combine them! A crema Catalana was deliciously sweet and creamy. A fine end to a fun evening.

It was a real treat to scoff such high class Spanish food amongst friends who as keen on putting good stuff in their mouth as I am. Whilst I don't think I'll ever be a regular at Brindisa's restaurants (due to location), I am keen to buy their goodies to cook at home. I've got my eye on their pork loin marinated in paprika. Thank you Simon for organising such a fun event. And good luck with future Dine with Dos Hermanos events.

For other write ups see:

Dinner Diaries
Dos Hermanos
Gastro Geek
Silverbrow on Food

Light of Gurkha, Balham

We're spoilt in Balham by the Holy Cow. Their curries come up trumps time and time again. I often make the short walk to pick up our food just so I can see the chefs in action as they knock out hundreds of dishes a night. Their lamb achari never fails to wow me. The only problem is, you can't eat in.

And that's where the Light of Gurkha comes in. It has taken up where Nanglo left off. The site has been given a fabulous makeover and is now bedecked with pink upholstery and dark wood that make it seem more like a Virgin Atlantic departures lounge rather than a Nepalese curry house. They have copied the smoking area from the Clarence next door to great effect. It gives the space at the back a purpose. A lot of care (and money) has been invested in bringing this restaurant back to life. And it has worked.

Feeling ravenous after Cowie's triathlon (supporting is hard work too!) we didn't hold back. Tandoori chicken and lamb chops were fantastic starters. The meat was juicy in the middle and crusted with charred spices on the outside. It has inspired us to give them a go in our clay oven. Maybe if we ask them nicely they will give us the recipe...

Cowie's chicken saag was delicious. The iron in the spinach seemed pretty appropriate given Cowie's athletic exertions earlier in the day. A smokey aubergine dish was just as good and has been earmarked for future consumption.

I decided to benchmark their lamb achari against the Holy Cow's where the slow cooked shoulder meat yields and melts like lamby butter. Here, the achari was sharper with a flavour that is very similar to the lime pickle you load onto your popadom. This is far from surprising, given that the dish is based on "achar" which is a way of pickling vegetables in oil. I'm in no position to say whether the Light of Gurkha or the Holy Cow serves a more authentic lamb achari. My hunch is that the Light of Gurkha might be more true to its roots because it has a punchier taste profile than the more rounded version from across the road. They are both good. They are both different. And if push came to shove I'd side with the Holy Cow.

Spiced pumpkin had the potential to be fabulous, but could have done with being cooked until the flesh was more tender and the flavour had a chance to explore its potential.

The service was excellent. We'd heard that they had a few problems with their first batch of staff, but these teething problems seemed to be ironed out now. Whilst it wasn't packed, the people around us were all murmuring contentedly about how impressed they were with the food. I've got a feeling The Light of Gurkha is going to become our regular curry house and am excited about them guiding me through the world of Nepalese food.

The Light of Gurkha,
88 Balham High Road,
SW12 9AG,

Saturday 20 June 2009

The Company Shed, West Mersea

Company Shed sign

We arrived at The Company Shed in West Mersea at 11.30am on a bright but cloudy Saturday, having managed to navigate our way across the tidal pass. We were immediately struck by the “other-worldly” feel of the island – every other house seemed to be either having a yard sale or was a boat that had got lost and decided it preferred a less nautical life.

We put our names down on the list and waited with an assortment of grannies and fellow piscine tourists. We waited for an hour and a half as elderly women pushed past us and hyperactive tourists tried to queue jump. I couldn’t stand the tense atmosphere so left Cowie to stand firm as I went snooping around the back where they boil the lobsters and crab. My chat with the crab boiler was quite revealing.

Crab boiler

I had, naively, assumed that all the seafood was fiercely local. So when I heard that the razor clams and scallops are from Scotland, the mussels are from New Zealand, the prawns are from India and Madagascar, the crabs are from Devon and the lobsters are often from Canada I was, to put it mildly, surprised. The fish is all local, as are the oysters. I was given a guided tour of their lobster tanks and marvelled at the iridescent blue coat of the English lobsters which made the Canadian imposters seem very drab in their brown jackets.

Lots of crabs

 Lobster 2

Crab shell close

Crab claw close

Another half an hour past before Cowie led the charge. Tired of seeing groups of four pushing past us we commandeered our table and watched the group who tried to leapfrog us weasel off with their tales between your legs. We did the honourable thing and ordered as much seafood as our formica covered table could hold. It required us to jettison the water, wine and salad to the floor in order to make space for the good stuff.

Our seafood platter for four was sensational. Whelks, prawns with their shells on and off, langoustine, crab and green lipped mussels adorned our table.


Shell on prawns


Crab claw

The crab was particularly good. Sweet, meaty and full of depth – it was majestic. And only let down by the mayonnaise which, whilst not being bad, didn’t cut the mustard. We longed for the rich, yellow gunge that the savvy table next door had brought along - our fault for not being prepared.

A plate of gigas rock oysters from Richard Haward’s oyster beds caused a stir. Anna had only ever had one oyster before and Edwin has a passionate hatred of them, for no other reason than he has never eaten them before. Anna devoured her second ever oyster with enough gusto to convince Edwin to have a crack too. But judging by the look of shock and disgust on his face, he is unlikely to come back for more. Which is good news for the rest of us! They were creamy and tasted unmistakably of the sea. Natives, rather than rocks, are served when the orbs are aligned.


We shared half of an English lobster which was so amazing it almost made me stand up and shout “Bravo! Encore!” Thank God I didn’t. Not only would it have been one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, but it would have also added £14 to our bill! But seafood this good has narcotic powers.


Tangerine, orange smoked salmon and less garish smoked mackerel were decent, but not in the same league as their shelled cousins.

Smoked fish

A bowl of poor man’s asparagus was sensational. It added texture, seasoning and colour to our mixture of browns, beige and pink. On our pre-lunch, time killing seaside walk, we had spotted well grazed samphire plants sitting in pools of salty mud. It was a joy to tuck into something so local.


We loved our lunch – even more so because it only cost us £60. The atmosphere was fun and informal. And the seafood was deliciously un-messed around. Malden sea salt was at home in it's natural hunting ground, but, sadly, powdered black pepper and bland mayonnaise didn’t do the fish justice.

I arrived thinking that all the fish and seafood was going to be from local waters but the fact that it isn’t seems odd. I can't help feeling that seaside seafood sheds should be serving the stuff they've just caught, rather than flying it in from far flung corners of the world. Maybe this is very naive on my part. It's not going to stop us returning, armed with our own pepper mill, some fresh mayonnaise and a jar of shallot vinegar.

Fresh fish

129 Coast Road
West Mersea
Tel 01206 382700

Thursday 4 June 2009

Spooning with Rosie - Book Launch

Brixton was at its best on Saturday. Buzzing with energy. Warm. Optimistic. And full of cheer. The market was bustling and Franco Manca had a queue the length of a how long I imagine a piece of string is. Wild Caper was overflowing with people and the sound track to Pretty Woman was blaring out of the hair dresser opposite the butcher on Electric Lane.

We pottered into Rosie's not knowing quite what to expect from the launch of Spooning with Rosie and settled down outside with a cup of tea and an espresso and realised that the world is a pretty cool place. We'd arrived just as Rosie, her Mum and the rest of her team were busy getting everything ready. So we landed up helping out by moving a few tables and chairs which just added to the charm.

Rosie's sign

Just as I was draining my coffee a cool looking woman with short dark hair wheeled along what looked like an old granny trolley and proceeded to set up a one man DJ stand playing the perfect Brixton book launch soundtrack.

DJ at Rosie's book launch

We bought a book from Rosie's Mum and were delighted that Rosie signed it.

Spooning with Rosie

Rosie book signing

Apart from the fact that it's got one of the best titles ever to adorn a book, it's full of brilliant recipes that are loved by the locals who adore Rosie's Delic Cafe. What I love about it is the fact that it is clearly such a labour of love. It completely reflects Rosie's personality and is a joy to read. I've also falled head over heals for the illustraions and love the fact that it is based in Brixton. Favourite recipes include scrambled eggs with chilli sauce and all sorts of delicious risottos, pies and sandwiches. I've got my eye on quite a few recipes to try out. It's also inspired me to want to write a book.

We spent ages chatting, nibbling on incredible sandwiches made with ciabatta baked in Franco Manca's ovens and gorging ourseves on cupcakes. It's a brilliant place that is full of warmth and creativity. If you can show me a cafe that's better, I'd love to see it.

Goat's cheese and onion marmalade

Beef and gherkin ciabatta


Rosie's website
Rosie's blog
Rosie on Twitter
Spooing with Rosie on Amazon

Monday 1 June 2009

Harwood Arms, Fulham

Tucked a safe distance behind Fulham Broadway, is a pub that serves outstanding food, that goes by the name of the Harwood Arms. It's reputation for serving the Capital's finest scotch egg was enough bait to lure me in from South of the river. Lizzie, Chris and Helen tipped me off about these eggy bundles of joy, so I pre-ordered some when I reserved our table. Just to make sure!

From the moment we arrived, we felt at home. The service was slick and the surroundings were smart but relaxed. The Harwood Arms strikes a great balance between creating the warm atmosphere of a pub, but with the overall style and professionalism of a restaurant. The Holy Grail for any gastropub. Given that the mantra of the Harwood Arms is to bring the country to the city it is no wonder that 3 country bumpkins living in London liked it so much!

We tucked into our venison scotch egg like hyenas at Easter who'd given up eating deer Lent. Yolk dripped across my face and slurped over my hands as I failed to put into words just how amazing that moment was. Cowie and my Sister were equally impressed. So much so that I only got a sixth of a Scotch egg! I mopped up the remains with some of the best bread I've gobbled down in ages.

My starter picked up from where the pre-starter had left off. A wooden platter of soft boiled pheasant eggs served on toast with mushrooms had me yelping in appreciation. The crunchy toast and earthy mushrooms were a perfect match. I loved it, but on reflection, it could have done with a bit of sharpness to balance the mellow glossiness.

Pheasant eggs

Poached salmon was rudely pink and criminally tasty. Almost ripe with flavour. It was impossibly attractive.

Poached salmon

Spurred on by the joy of our earlier scotch egg, my sister followed this up with a limited edition, black pudding scotch egg that was served with some cold asparagus that was supposed to be hot. But, when the black pudding scotch egg is this good, they could have served it with a used condom and I'd have been happy!

Black pudding scotch egg

Having wowed us with the starters, we were worried the kitchen would struggle to outdo itself with the mains. But we needn't have been. My grilled deer with bay, garlic potatoes and horseradish and beetroot spread was a dish that I'd happily have every day of the week. The meat was soft, charred and punctuated by the deicate flavour of bay that it had been skewered with. The beetroot and horseradish sauce was so good that Cowie annexed it to go with her cod! Garlic potatoes were upstaged dramatically.

Grilled roe deer

Cowie's cod was delicious. Topped with potted shrimp and some garnished with sea greens it couldn't have been a lot better. But I just hope it was sourced from somewhere that isn't running out of cod.

Cod with shrimp butter

My sister devoured her ray like there was no tomorrow. My little mouthful was far more citrus than I was expecting. Which was no bad thing. The only criticism would be the size of the portion. But then again none of us left feeling hungry and we couldn't find room for dessert!


The Harwood Arms is a top class gastropub, serving the sort of menu where you'd happily eat everything on it 7 days a week. The menu doesn't just pay lip service to seasonality and provenance, it genuinely lives and breathes it as you'll see by the way the menu changes when their larder AKA the countryside is having a glut. Look out for signal crayfish hitting their menu soon for instance. When you visit, which you must, just make sure you don't miss out on the scotch eggs. They are worthy of an entire page in the Dorling Kindersley Guide to London.

Harwood Arms on Urbanspoon


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