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Archive for the ‘Restaurant’ Category

Where to eat in London? Where to start? 
I’m not a very organised traveller. Unlike some of my friends who research, pre-book and set off with a gastronomic itinerary, I have enough trouble just getting myself on the plane. Inevitably I miss out on some great experiences – I’ve yet to get to any of Yotam Ottolenghi’s eateries – but I’ve also made some memorable discoveries by leaving things to the last minute. An element of risk sharpens the appetite and on this latest stay in London I was amply rewarded by leaving it to chance and the helpful advice of friends on the ground.

People say London is a city of hidden treasures. It’s true. I was born in London and I spent some time living and working there back in the 80s but I wouldn’t say I know it. I’ve barely scratched the surface and I don’t think I’ve ever been to Shoreditch, much less the former housing estate where I was taken for lunch by my friend Jody and her son Charlie Scott, a promising young chef, currently working at La Gourmandina in Bloomsbury.
The red bricked Victorian era estate, complete with its own school, was sold under Thatcher’s controversial Right to Buy initiative – a policy that led to the dramatic reduction of social housing. Now renovated and gentrified, the Boundary Estate is home to several design businesses and a casual-chic restaurant that’s located in the former bike sheds and playground of the old school. Named Rochelle Canteen, after the school, it’s entered through a small doorway marked ‘Boys’. It’s not easy to find – the only clue to its whereabouts is a signboard on the pavement outside – but press a buzzer and the door opens on to a walled garden with a well kept lawn, outside tables, and a raised vegetable garden that supplies a menu that changes daily. 

The menu is as English as the garden it’s served in. Gull’s eggs with celery salt, smoked cod’s roe with radishes, cucumber and lovage soup, poached salmon, heritage pork (Gloucester Old Spot) whole crab, marsh vegetables and little brown shrimps just like the ones from the Wirral Peninsula where I grew up. 

It made me nostalgic for the England I remember through rose-tinted glasses: badgers in the woods, cricket on the village green, gooseberries in the garden and potted shrimps on Sunday. I had to order the lemon posset, how could I not? 

The food was effortlessly simple and beautifully flavoured. It reminded me of Nikau Cafe in Wellington. The ambiance was light and airy, the service friendly and snappy, and the vegetables were superbly presented – picked straight from their garden beds and served raw, lightly steamed, still crunchy or wilted for maximum flavour. 

It helped that London had turned on the sunshine the day we visited. The outside tables were full and there was the barest sniff of a barbecue coming from the open air grill as as it charred the edges of a my entrée: skewers of rabbit offal (juicy, tasty, smokey, delicious). 

The offal was a clue to the ownership of the restaurant. Charlie told me it was owned by two women, one of whom was married to nose-to-tail chef Fergus Henderson of the celebrated restaurant St John. I put two and two together when my lemon posset arrived with a stick of ginger crunch. I knew Fergus was married to a New Zealander and, as luck would have it, Margot Henderson was seated at an outside table. I stopped by for a chat. Margot is originally from Wellington so we had friends and places in common. She told me she visits Wellington once a year and the first thing she does on arrival is head into town for lunch at her favourite eatery. I got it in one. Nikau at the City Gallery. Of course.

  • Rochelle Canteen
  • Arnold Circus, London E2 
  • Underground Station: Old Street on the Northern Line
  • Reservations (essential) 020 7729 5677
  • Mains GBP 14.00 to 18.00
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It seems disloyal to rave about Aussie craft beers from my home in the beer capital of New Zealand but full credit to the brewers from across the ditch who swept in to Wellington last week with a swag of top brews from the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA).

They were here to take part in the Brewers Guild of New Zealand International Beer Awards and the Beervana festival, and they matched Logan Brown restaurant course-for-course at a wonderful lunch and tasting session co-hosted by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and Cryer Malt. I’m not sure how I slipped into this event since I’ve only ever made two batches of beer in my life (and these were hop-doctored IPA’s based on off-the-shelf brew kits). I put it down to my enthusiasm for craft beer and the people who make it.  I really like spending time with brewers – they’re smart, good fun and they don’t take themselves too seriously.

A Generous Tasting of Aussie Craft Beers

A Generous Tasting of Aussie Craft Beers

Brewers are also very collegial. It was a lively event with lots of mutual admiration and none of the tiresome trans-Tasman rivalry that accompanies so many other Aus/NZ events. Still, I was interested to know how the two countries compared. The objective view, from NZ malt king David Cryer, is that while craft brewing took off much earlier in New Zealand, Australia has more than caught up.

My own experience last year in Melbourne was that whenever I asked for a craft beer in a café or bar I was presented with a standard brew from Little Creatures, which was rather like finding nothing more interesting than Monteiths. The  Australian brewers I met at the Logan Brown lunch told me that situation, which was largely due to trade arrangements with the big breweries, is changing rapidly. They say boutique brewers are now well represented in bars and on ‘wine lists’, particularly in cities like Melbourne. And so they should be. Like wine, a well considered beer match adds an extra dimension to a dining experience.

And that brings me to lunch. Shaun Clouston and Steve Logan have been matching beer with their menus for some time now, and it shows. I won’t taunt you with a blow by blow description of the Logan Brown lunch  – just two of my favourite courses:

entreephotoFirst up, Logan Brown’s buttery paua ravioli (left of photo) was matched with this year’s Champion Australian Beer, Alpha Pale Ale from the Matilda Bay Brewing Company. Its full malt flavour was perfect with the rich beurre blanc sauce and the citrusy hops perfectly aligned with the lime and coriander flavourings. The paua got a little lost but the rest was so good that I can’t say I missed it.

The  tuatua fritter (right of photo) was partnered with  Bridge Road Brewers  India Saison  (a collaboration with Norway’s Nøngne Ø brewery and an AIBA gold award winner) Shellfish loves hops and this is a bright hoppy beer, with the same hint of citrus that sits so well with orange and fennel. pie photo

Mid-menu, I fell upon Shaun’s wild boar and muttonbird pie. It was the best thing I’ve eaten in ages and was made even better with a double match – a dark barley wine from Bootleg Brewery and a malty red ale from Holgate Brewhouse. Interestingly, the latter was one of three beers on this menu brewed in collaboration with the previously mentioned brewery in Norway. Australia and Norway? Intriguing. I should have asked.

RISphotoSome of these beers were available for tasting at Beervana, one that wasn’t was an off-menu bottle I was lucky to try at the end of the Logan Brown lunch. It was one of only 250 bottles produced and it was brought to our table by the man who brewed it: Simon Walkenhorst of Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company, in the Yarra Valley. The original brewery was burnt to the ground in Victoria’s 2009 bush fires; a new, better brewery was built six months later and it has continued to produce some of Australia’s best handcrafted beers.  The big black bottle we opened was the Russian Imperial Stout, 2012. It won a gold at the AIBA that year and my lunch notes describe it as deeply delicious. It was all chocolate and coffee, roasted malt, smooth as velvet and made to be aged, just like a wine from the Yarra.

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Last week I ate at the White House restaurant in Wellington. It was a family birthday and we ordered the winning Visa Wellington on a Plate menu. It was the second time in one week that I’d eaten the chef’s rabbit pie with Otaki carrots. The grower would have cried tears of joy to see how brilliantly his humble root vegetable was prepared – not just boiled but also dried, powdered and sous vide – it was a mini degustation of carrot. It goes without saying that the rabbit was excellent too; Chef Paul Hoather is into the detail. He even makes his own butter from cream he’s cultured himself. And that brings me to the funky dessert which was not on the Wellington on a Plate menu but it did contain cultured cream. He thought I should try it because he’d read my blog post on the edible condom I ate in Hong Kong (scroll down to Sex on the Beach). I think he was suggesting I wash my mouth out with soap.

Milk Curd, Pistachio Sponge Cake and Honey at the White House

Paul’s soap was a gloriously rich chilled down, dense version of crème anglaise, tasty because it was made with his own cultured crème fraiche. The bubble foam was somehow infused with honey and the loofah was pistachio. It was the most difficult part to create but it made the dish with its contrasting texture and undeniable wit. It’s on the degustation menu.

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