Tag Archives: pasta

Stelle di Stelle, Harrods

I rarely take selfies, so I’m glad one of the few was Annie Feolde – the first female chef to be awarded three Michelin stars in Italy. Turns out it was Annie’s first selfie, so I can safely say it was a special moment for all of us.
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Special, but not the highlight of the night. That was saved for the London debut of Annie’s exceptional food. Oh yes, her exquisite Tuscan restaurant Enoteca Pinchiorri had landed in Harrods and I was there for the launch.
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The three course meal started wonderfully with a pretty plate of poached egg, Alba white truffle and Grana Padano cheese fondue – three of my favourite things. We were also treated to fantastic Italian wines, washed down with S. Pellegrino’s sister Acqua Panna, which had recently released a restyled bottle to reflect its Tuscan roots.
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Next up was Fusilli al Ferretto with artichokes, scampi and liquorice powder. The simple, yet distinctive flavours wrapped themselves around the homemade pasta in a way that made me want it to last forever. So far, so very very good.
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We finished with a gorgeous dessert inspired by a traditional Italian pudding given to children. Chocolate soaked bread was juxtaposed with oil and salt to create a sweet dish with a savoury nudge.
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I plan to go to Tuscany in 2015 and have told Annie I’ll be paying her a visit. Her food was too good to only have once in my life and she was too sweet not to meet again.
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What we had was just a sample, so if you want to enjoy the whole hog at Enoteca Pinchiorri in London, get to Harrods before the 31st December for a six course tasting menu priced £115, or £140 with matching wine.
Stelle di Stelle, 87-135 Brompton Road, London SW1X 7XL

Cicchetti, Covent Garden

The Cheers theme tune sang in my head as I entered Cicchetti last Friday. Everyone was smiling and everybody knew our naaames. We were family. It was the Italian way.

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There were plenty more treats in store when it came to the food. Just like a good steakhouse parades its cuts of meat, our waiter / brother / friend showcased Cicchetti’s beautifully bulbus truffles.

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We smelt them long before they arrived at our booth, located to one side of the bright, marbled dining room. Two black funghi and one, rarer, White Alba truffle that would be used to make my dish of the night.

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Plates of antipasti, primi, carne and pesce appeared in front of us over the course of two and a half hours. I was struck by how fresh the ingredients were – tomatoes that sat like jewels on top of crisp Bruchetta (£4.85) could have been flown in from Italy that morning, and as for the creamy Burrata (£9.95), well I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a buffalo downstairs in the kitchen.

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Most impressive was the White Alba pasta, which came from the daily list of ‘specials’. Homemade ribbons, golden butter and large shavings of truffle were all this dish needed. It melted in my mouth, transporting me to my ‘happy place’.

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That’s not to say the Lobster Risotto (£12.95) and Squid Ink Ravioli stuffed with crab (£8.95) wasn’t divine, but when you taste nectar, you never go back…

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I couldn’t resist ordering a bowl of crisp, sweet, Zucchini Fritti (£4.90) and a couple of Queen Scallops (£10.95). Sitting pretty in their shells, they were lightly fried in olive oil with just a few, simple accompaniments – garlic, lemon and breadcrumbs.

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We weren’t all that impressed by dessert – probably our fault as we greedily ordered a mixed plate of puddings, which were far to heavy for our already overwhelmed stomachs.

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So, to finish on a high, I’ll leave you with the Funghi Crostini, also knowns as my second favourite dish of the night. The dark, meaty mushrooms glistened with butter, perfumed by fresh parsley. It was begging to be demolished, which is exactly what happened.

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If you want good, Italian food that you can afford on pay day, but not by the end of the month, Cicchetti is for you. It’s not as cool as Polpetto, or as pretentious as Bocca di Lupo, but it does serve lovely Italian food with a bright, friendly smile.

Cicchetti Covent Garden, 30 Wellington St London WC2E 7BD

Food 4/5 – Price 4/5 – Staff 5/5 – Atmosphere 4/5

San Carlo Cicchetti on Urbanspoon

Provence, Summer 2014

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A couple of months ago, I went on a much needed holiday to the South of France. For me, it was always going to be about the food. So if you’re already planning your 2015 getaway (the thought has crossed my mind), perhaps this post will tempt your tastebuds to Provence.

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We stayed in a pretty village called Le Rouret, which just so happened to have its own Michelin-starred restaurant (she says). Le Clos Saint Pierre serves delicious dishes on a magical terrace, which keeps it packed every night. It’s so charming, made all the more special by Head Chef Daniel Ettlinger, who enthusiastically chats food and France with his guests.

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Renting a car was essential for us to explore the surrounding countryside. The Gorge du Verdon is spectacular, whether looking from above the clouds, or pedalling across the turquoise water to its many waterfalls. This ‘Grand Canyon of France’ also gave us an excuse to eat yummy snails and wickedly good creme brûlée at La Table de la Fontaine in Rians.

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Antibes was our number one stop for sea, sand and sunbathing, along with a mooch round its daily food market. Le Marche Provencal is filled with beautiful fruit, vegetables, flowers, cakes, pates and hungry Frenchmen. It made us wish for a villa so we could stuff our baskets with local produce and cook up a feast for dinner. Maybe next time.

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One town we couldn’t miss was Medieval Mougins. Famed for its restaurants, art (Picasso lived there) and undeniable prettiness, it’s also home to a lake of Lotus Flowers that will literally take your breath away.

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We also went to Tourtour, Vence and Nice, which all have qualities you’d be mad to miss. In fact, you’d be mad to miss any of Provence, so go, explore and enjoy. I promise it won’t disappoint.

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Rotorino, Dalston

I’ve always liked Stevie Parle’s face. He looks like one of the good guys; someone who enjoys life and isn’t afraid to show it. You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this – even I am a bit – but I truly believe people’s personalities are reflected in their work. So, how could sunny, optimistic looking Stevie do any wrong?

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Because of Stevie’s face, The Dock Kitchen has been on my restaurant bucket list for the past few years. It’s still on there today, but at least I can now say I’ve eaten at his new, slightly cheaper restaurant Rotorino, which opened a couple of months ago on Kingsland Road.

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A diamond in the ‘no longer rough’ Dalston, Rotorino is made up of a large rectangular dining room that’s blue, brown and white all over, filled with wooden tables, black plastic chairs, a row of booths down one side and bright, loud patterns.

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I was right about the face; Stevie’s food is lovely. Inspired by gorgeous Italian cuisine, the menu is split into First, Second and Third courses, followed by the all important ‘Sweet’.

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We shared courses, which covered off refreshing Watermelon & Tomato Salad with chilli, mint and ricotta (£6), Buffalo Mozzarella with smashed broad beans, mint and a giant, claw like pod  (£6.50) and lightly battered Mixed Small Fish & Squid with Monk’s Beard and grease cutting fried lemon (£6). Nothing blew me away, but at the same time, not a crumb was left on the pretty, rustic plates.

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Second was a small bowl of Pistachio Casarecce (£7.50) and Sausage Gnochetti Sardi (£8). I often find restaurant pasta boring, but this was not the case here. The first creatively combined crushed pistachio, basil, garlic and olive oil (YUM), whilst the latter delightfully combined slow-cooked sausage, red wine, chilli and breadcrumbs.

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For Third, we shared Sasso Chicken (£14.50) and Pork & Veal Meatballs (£9.50) from the ‘stove’, with a side of Chickpeas topped with fried breadcrumbs (who could resist!).

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The meatballs were tasty enough and my favourite part of the bird was the juice drenched bread that sat beneath it. But it was the chickpeas that stole the show – so simple, they reminded me how satisfying vegetarian living can be.

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I must pause to tell you that there were three, not two of us at this dinner. I wouldn’t want you trying to tackle this much food, believing they’ll be room for pudding – something that should never be missed.

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It was L’s birthday, so a candle topped Chocolate Cake (£5) was quietly ordered on a trip to the bathroom. It was divine – chocolate, honeycomb, pistachio and soured cream should get engaged, married and live happily ever after.

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Stevie did me proud, just like I knew he would. I enjoyed each and every dish, although some stood out more than others. The restaurant was buzzing and will now be my little oasis of calm (and tasty food) in bustling Dalston. I’m giving Rotorino a LLE Rating of 8/10.

Rotorino, 434 Kingsland Rd, London E8 4AA

Rotorino on Urbanspoon

Coal Vaults, Soho

The appropriately named Coal Vaults can be found in a Soho basement on Wardour Street. It provides shelter from the cold, with its low ceilings, candlelit alcoves, ‘homemade infusions’ (aka bespoke cocktails) and sharing dishes.

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I went on a balmy October eve, refreshing myself with Domestic Bliss (£9) made from Quince Rum, carraway, cinnamon, sugar and egg white. On second thoughts, it was far more delicious than refreshing, with its boozy sweetness warming my cockles. Alongside this, there was surprisingly spicy Devilled Popcorn – a complimentary Trick or Treat?

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From the fashionable open kitchen, Wild Mushroom Ragu (£8) was a huge hit. The fresh pasta hadn’t quite absorbed the sauce, but me oh my, those were some juicy fungi – each different in size and flavour. Equally, Sherry Brazed Pig Cheek (£3) was hearty and rich, reminding me of good countryside pub grub.

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Potted Crab (£8.50) had respectably large flakes of meat, but the Pulled Rabbit (£8.50) was hiding down an overpowering hole of smoked black beans, sweetcorn, pineapple relish and avocado sour cream. Not that I found it unpleasant.

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Dessert wise, I was in heaven eating Salted Flourless Chocolate Cake (£5) with its mint creme fraiche and toasted almonds, but found myself in limbo when it came to the Lemon & Olive Oil Cake (£5). It had a lively flavour, but was far too dry for me (I was expecting wet wet wet).

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At the end, the £100 bill took us by surprise. Yes we’d had a cocktail, shared a bottle of house white and devoured a belly full of dishes, but the price felt excessive. Nevertheless, I’m giving Coal Vaults a LLE Rating of 7/10. It’s a great Halloween Haunt, pre-Bonfire Buffet or Winter Warmer, and I can’t wait to try more of its creations in the not so distant future.

Coal Vaults, 187b Wardour Street, Soho W1F 8ZB

Coal Vaults on Urbanspoon

Daphne’s, South Kensington

Does anyone else feel at a loss now the games are over? Sure, I have other things to occupy my time, but I miss chatting to strangers about Mo Farah’s victories and seeing ‘Go Team GB’ painted across foreheads as Union Jack flags hang out of ears.

It’s in times like these I turn to food. I not only cook and eat it, I reflect on recent meals that made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. My dinner at Daphne’s is a case in point.

Daphne’s is a smart, white tableclothed Italian in Brompton Cross, between Chelsea and South Kensington. The area sets off price alarm bells. It’s not somewhere to go if you’re not prepared to pay a small food fortune.

When faced with prices like these, The Boyfriend and I share where we can. The menu was divided the Italian way into Antipasti, Paste e Risotti (Primi), Secondi and Dolci.

With our ‘pre-holiday’ sharing hat on, we picked one Antipasti – Beef Carpaccio with Rocket & Artichoke. I knew the flavours would go well together, so there were no surprises with this dish. The portion was perfect for sharers and the effect was delicately simple, which is what you’re after from carpaccio.

The mains were an exception to the sharing rule. We both picked our favourites, which for me was Linguine Alla Vongole and for The Boyfriend was Pappardelle con Ragu di Cinghiale.

You could tell the pasta was made fresh that day as it wasn’t used as a vehicle to carry the sauce. My Linguine was generously doused in clams that flavoured the garlicky sauce perfectly. The Boyfriend also had an ample serving, this time of sweet, tender shredded wild boar.

Before Sicily, I didn’t see how Italians could eat a meat or fish dish after so much pasta and Antipasti. Now I’m back with a stretched stomach, it seems more understandable. Obviously Daphne’s was pre-Sicily, so we skipped Secondi and launched straight into Dolci, sharing Torta al Fromaggio con Frutti di Bosco – a prettier way to say cheesecake.

Pudding really stood out for me. The Boyfriend preferred the traditional set up, but I loved the way the cheesecake had been mixed together a la Eton Mess. The sweet fruity sauce stopped it being dry and the biscuit remained crunchy despite mixing it with the soft creamy goodness.

Daphne’s gets a LLE Rating of 7.5/10. I would have given it more if it weren’t for the prices – our meal with one bottle of wine was nearly £100 – and slightly outdated decor – white tablecloths really aren’t my cup of tea.

Seven Nights in Sicily

If I learned anything in Sicily, it’s that Brits eat cake at the wrong time of the day. In the land of The Godfather, I had cake for breakfast…every morning. The benefit? It gave my body the chance to burn off my sweet fix during the day. Well, it would have done if I hadn’t eaten gelato every evening.

We went to Sicily for the sun, scenery, beaches and food. Louisa – the lovely lady we rented Villa Britannia from –  really helped us with this, particularly when it came to finding the best, most traditional restaurants in Taormina.

On night one, we were tired. I will kindly say we accidentally booked flights into the wrong side of the island – The Boyfriend knows the truth (don’t you). Nearly four hours on a plane, the same amount of time on a bus and a short taxi ride took us to Villa Britannia and Louisa, who quickly booked us dinner at L’Arco dei Cappuccini.

We were given a glass of Prosecco when we got to the restaurant, which was followed by wine, antipasti, primi and secondi. Nothing disappointed me, not the melt in the mouth fish carpaccio, the Tagliatelle con Vongole or the pan fried monkfish. Yes, the Sicilians eat a lot. But we soon grew accustomed to this.

We had pizza on the second night. The Boyfriend predicted it wouldn’t be great and, annoyingly for both of us, he was right. But luckily, the atmosphere at Granduca made up for it. As did the gelato afterwards.

By Wednesday, we craved something homemade. Louisa came to the rescue, letting us cook our take on Spaghetti (Tagliatelle) Carbonara at ‘home’.

We were out on the town again on Thursday. By that, I mean dinner at the beautiful Cucina Tipica Siciliana, followed by yet more gelato. Here, the best course was the Antipasti of deep fried courgette flowers stuffed with tuna. I’d only ever eaten the flowers stuffed with cheese, so fish came as a welcome change.

We were now over half way through our week in Sicily, so conversations were dominated by hypothetical questions like ‘if you were to live / buy a holiday home somewhere, where would it be?’ Ah, those wishful thoughts that make you feel a tiny bit better at the end of your holiday.

We visited Taverna Al Paladino on night five and the combination of friendly waiters and well priced food and wine gave us every reason to go back on the sixth night. It was here that we had Sicilian speciality Pasta alla Norma, which was simply delicious. Oh, and we also had mussels, tuna carpaccio, another serving of Spaghetti Con Vongole and bread, glorious bread.

We spent our final night at Hotel Principe di Villafranca in Palermo, a little gem we booked through Secret Escapes. The two words that sum up this hotel for me are ‘air conditioning’. For the first time in a week, we went from 40 degrees heat to a temperature that made me wish I’d brought a jumper. Food wise, we decided to eat in the hotel’s small restaurant. It wasn’t amazing, but I enjoyed the aubergine stack we had for starter and still managed to stuff enough food in my mouth to fall into a deep sleep before our early start the next day.

An entire week has past since Sicily and the thought of sitting in these restaurants feels like a dream. At least the UK heatwave, team GB’s medals and watching Bolt fly have softened the blow of work and a pretty hefty credit card bill.