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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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A Good Oil

I’ve just discovered a new olive oil and unusually for me it’s from Greece. For years I’ve been in the habit of buying Italian oil by the litre for cooking and local New Zealand for the table – a different one every time.

My new oil, from Vassilakis Estate was recommended to me by Frederic, the manager of  Le Marché Français in Wellington. The idea that a French delicatessen should not only stock a Greek olive oil but give it a prominent display, centre stage, intrigued me.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an estate bottled Greek olive oil on the shelf in this country, let alone bought one, so I read up on it. I discovered that Greek producers have been slow to follow the boutique trend, and not because their oils lack quality. Greece boasts the highest percentage of extra virgin olive oil in the world (up to 80% of their total production). Despite that, most of the exported oil is shipped out unbranded to countries who use it to raise the quality of their own bulk blends. Boutique brands are in the minority but if the international awards are anything to go by, their numbers are increasing.

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Vassilakis Estate EV Olive oil

This one made it to Wellington thanks to businessman Paul Robinson.  He discovered it while on holiday in Crete and was so impressed  by the oil and the Vassilakas family who produce it that he rashly imported two pallets and had it delivered to Le Marché Français at the Woolstore, his building on Thorndon Quay.

The Vassilakis family has been producing oil from their estate since 1865. The current generation is proud of their heritage but they are also investing heavily in the future with modern extraction technology and contemporary branding. Given the current Greek crisis, that’s as brave as it is smart and I imagine it was part of what appealed to Paul when he put in his order. He told me he likes the idea that his own family business, the Woolstore, is supporting another family business in Crete.

I’m a sucker for a story like that so I paid $10.90 for 200ml of the best in the range and I tasted it neat, sipped off a warm spoon. (I’ve always thought it a strange way to taste a product that is otherwise never consumed like this but it is the fairest way to evaluate and compare olive oils.) Like most Greek olive oil this one is made from koroneiki olives which produce a very low acid, fruity flavoured oil. balanced with a pleasant bitterness (think raddicchio). I also found it nicely buttery with a silky mouth feel, a grassy aroma and a peppery finish that lingers like a warm evening in Crete.

I’ve been sloshing it about quite liberally. Its slight bitterness is perfect on a green salad – it’s like adding a few dandelion leaves to the mix – and it’s very good drizzled on my (mostly) homegrown tomatoes with mozzarella, sea salt and basil. 

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The Boxed Set

Who else remembers magazines with recipe pages designed four to a page and formated on both sides so you could cut them out and collect them as recipe cards? Food pic on one side and recipe on the other, they were a good idea but the boxed set never really challenged the traditional way of filing recipes in ringbinders and scrapbooks. Well now they’re back – not as magazine cutouts but as fully formed sets of cards neatly stacked in boxes that look good on the bench. Penguin the publisher has its version and so has Ripe the delicatessen.

Ripe: The Boxed Set

Ripe: The Boxed Set

I love the Ripe version. It arrived just before Christmas in a flat pack with assembly instructions that make the building process quite simple – no nails required. Whoever thought this system through is a genius. The laminated cards stack up neatly between colour-coded dividers in a smart plywood box that has a metal lid which doubles as an angled card holder – no more using the pepper mill to keep the right page open on the bench.

The indexed dividers are smart too, arranging the recipes in a way Ripe devotees like to cook. There are sections for Salads, Nibbles and Dips, Dressings and Rubs, Soups & Starters, Lunch & Dinner, etc. and a handy secton for measurements, tips and conversions. My box came with two sets of themed cards: Summertime and Festive Celebrations. I’m told more sets will be published on an ongoing basis and there are also a few blanks for recipes that come from elsewhere. I’ve already started stuffing my box full of extras and I’ve also tried out a few of the original recipes. These are fresh and flavoursome with Ripe’s signature emphasis on clever salads and decadent baking.

Given the retro nature of the boxed set idea I was particularly drawn to a recipe that reinterprets a dish from the 70s. Back then, when I was little, dining out with my parents was a huge treat. I loved being able to choose three courses from a menu. I like to think I was pretty adventurous but when it came to the entrée I always chose the avocado. In those days it was an ‘avocado pear’ and it came either halved and filled with vinaigrette – how I loved scooping out the flesh and dunking it into the oily pond – or it was stuffed full of shrimps coated in Thousand Island Dressing. I liked them either way but now I’m a grownup I much prefer Ripe’s Asian-inspired avocado boats filled with spicy prawns. Recipe below.

Ripe: The Box comes with two sets of recipe cards and some blank cards. RRP $60  Order online

Link to NZ Life & Leisure on Facebook for the chance to win one of two Ripe recipe boxes

                         ANGIE’S AVOCADO & SPICED PRAWN BOATS

SallyGreer_RipeRecipeBox_417A6559_web

400g FRESH PRAWNS, tail on

1 or 2 CHILLIES, finely diced

zest and juice of 1 LEMON

1 tbsp COCONUT SUGAR

2 KAFFIR LIME LEAVES, finely chopped

¼ cup SESAME SEEDS

1 SPRING ONION, finely sliced

½ cup CORIANDER, roughly chopped

½ YELLOW CAPSICUM, finely diced

½ GREEN CAPSICUM, finely diced

¼ cup THAI BASIL LEAVES

1 tbsp COCONUT OIL or RICE BRAN OIL

5 RIPE AVOCADOS

SALT & freshly ground BLACK PEPPER

2 LIMES cut into wedges to serve

To marinate the prawns: in a bowl, place the prawns, chillies, lemon zest & juice, sugar, lime leaves & sesame seeds. Toss to coat the prawns in the marinade.

Place in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. In another bowl, mix the spring onions, coriander, capsicums & Thai basil leaves together.

Place a frying pan over a high heat; once the pan is smoking hot add the coconut oil.

Then add the prawns & the marinade, fry for a few minutes or until the prawns are caramelised & golden.

Remove from the heat & transfer the prawns with any remaining marinade in the pan, into the bowl with the spring onions & capsicums. Season to taste with salt & freshly ground black pepper.

Cut the avocados in half, remove the stone but leave the skin on.

Place the avocados on a serving platter. Top each avocado with a big spoonful of the prawn mix. Serve with wedges of lime on the side. Serves 10 as an entrée.

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I love dumplings. Steamed, fried or floating in broth; warm podgy parcels or elegantly pleated purses; pot stickers that cling to the frypan or dumplings that bulge with their own soupy juices –  I love them all. 10256567_526618227465495_2595180234059251554_o

Every country has its own sort – from the gnocchi of Italy to the cheese stuffed pierogi of Poland – but I particularly like the Asian varieties and I’m right behind the current trend for dumplings with flavour combinations that cross culinary borders. I’m thinking of the xiaolongbao dumplings filled with foie gras and truffles that I ate in Shanghai and I’ve been reading about the dumpling houses in New York that offer combinations like pork and fennel or dumplings stuffed with lamb cheeks. There is even a restaurant famous for its Pac Man shaped dumplings with sesame seed eyes. (click for NY Times review)

Here n Wellington, New Zealand, we have the recently opened House of Dumplings owned by Vicky Ha who swears she takes no notice of trends but is bang on with her range of dumplings that include traditional flavours like prawn and chives alongside combinations like pulled pork and watercress, smoked ricotta and pumpkin.

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Dumpling Queen, Vicky Ha

Her Nepalese spiced lamb dumplings, and Korean beef with sesame seeds are personalised renditions of national favourites and while some shapes are traditional, others have been invented by the dumpling queen herself. All are handmade from the stock to the dough, with ingredients that have been carefully sourced for their free-range or otherwise sustainable credentials.

Yes, they are more expensive than the ones you might buy from the freezer of an Asian supermarket but these are so much better – as good as the dumplings Vicky learned to make at home in Hong Kong. “I feed people with what I grew up with. The chicken dumpling is my mum’s recipe and there are good quality ingredients in there. I’m trying to do that same home quality at a commercial level.”

Vicky spent her early years in Hong Kong but was educated in New Zealand where she studied marketing and food science and then trained as a chef. Her eclectic food tastes were honed in the kitchens of Wellington restaurants (the White House and Cafe L’Affare) and her dumpling business began with a hawker bicycle cart at the City Market on the waterfront . The bicycle is now used to deliver dumplings around the capital and Vicky spends most of her time in the kitchen at the back of her Hong Kong styled dumpling house on Taranaki Street. She makes 200 dumplings a day all of which are wolfed down by busy urbanites who share her taste for what she calls the ultimate snack food.

“Every culture has its own dumpling, It’s comfort food for a lot of people  and I guess my job is to glamorise it – don’t eat a hot dog, eat a dumpling.”

Vicky’s dumplings are available to eat in or takeaway at:

The Dumpling House 117 Taranaki St 

Hole in the Wall 79 Manners St

City Market, Chaffers (Sunday mornings)

You can also buy freezer packs at Moore Wilson            

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Each year as Christmas approaches I wonder why we do this to ourselves: why ramp up the stress levels by trying to meet the massive expectations of the season? As if work deadlines, Christmas shopping and holiday plans weren’t enough to create a perfect storm of activity, I find myself throwing out casual invitations like confetti, energised by the idea of all those end-of-year catchups and then panicking at the thought of spending more time in the kitchen.

T5cover This year, I’ve been saved by a clever collection of recipes published by Wellington food writer and former restaurateur Margôt de Cotesworth, a woman who clearly loves entertaining. Her book Take 5 and Cook: The Dinner Book is guided by the principle that stylish dishes can be created with the minimum of effort and just five ingredients. This isn’t a new idea but Margôt manages to reduce each recipe to the basics without losing the integrity of the dish. She is also a master of taste, using simple combinations to provide maximum flavour without the addition of a myriad herbs and spices. Lamb kebabs are qiuite simply marinated in ouzo, lemon zest, olive oil and oregano, then chargrilled and served with a sprinklng of salt. Pedantic readers will have counted six ingredients but salt, pepper and a splash of olive oil are the only allowable extras in this entire collection of 120 seasonal recipes.

Some are Margôt’s own family favourites. Her brother’s crisp apple tart and her mother’s fish chowder can be whipped up in a jiffy for a family meal. Others are classics and some are café staples. There are recipes for European favourites – ricotta gnocchi, tartiflette and gazpacho – and while they are certainly pared down to the bare essentials, dishes such as Not a Paella and Nearly a Tiramisu are close enough for my purposes.

I’ve tested several dishes and while I always find it hard to follow a recipe I’ve mostly resisted the urge to throw in extra ingredients. I can recommend the Anchovy and Almond Sauce as an excellent accompaniment to fish or venison and I’ve enjoyed serving Pineapple with White Balsamic Dressing, but the dish that’s saved my sanity on three occasions already is Margôt’s quick-to-whip-up-but-deliciously-decadent Chocolate Silk Tart. Like all the recipes in her book the five ingredients must be top quality. I use a dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao and I’ve found it best to use caster sugar because it melts faster. Quantities fit a loose-base 22 cm tart tin.

Margôt's Chocolate Silk Tart

Margôt’s Chocolate Silk Tart

 

Chocolate Silk Tart

2 cups biscuit crumbs

185g butter

150g dark chocolate

½ cup sugar

3 eggs

Stir the biscuit crumbs into 60g of melted butter. Press into a well-buttered dish and chill. Melt the chocolate, sugar and remaining 125g butter, stirring over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Cool.

Beat the eggs and gradually pour in the chocolate mixture. continue beating until well combined. Pour into the crust and chill.

Serve with whipped cream, if you like.

Take 5 and Cook – The Dinner Book, Margôt de Cotesworth. RRP $49.90 at selected book and food stores and online

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Nespresso Wellington

It had to happen. Wellington, the coffee capital, has a Nespresso Boutique. The Lambton Quay store opened last week with all the glitz and glam of an upmarket cocktail bar. Dean Barker and entourage, John Key and entourage, chef celebs, local artists and personalities gave the photographers plenty to snap about while the rest of us – fuelled on coffee martinis, champagne and canapés – chattered about what this new concept might bring to the capital.

Wellington's Nespresso Bar

Wellington’s Nespresso Bar

We Wellingtonians are insufferably snobby and parochial about coffee. American import Starbucks has failed to make headway in a city that boasts numerous hip cafés and artisan roasters so what do we make of the Swiss company’s chances?

For the benefit of people like me, who until last week thought Nespresso was an upmarket coffee shop frequented by George Clooney, here’s a brief rundown of the concept that has expanded across 50 countries.

Firstly the boutiques are not cafés although they do have bars where consumers can taste before they buy from a range of single shot coffee capsules designed to fit Nespresso branded machines. Machines, capsules and associated products are sold from the store-boutiques that also serve as collection points for the spent aluminium capsules which are recycled off shore. There are 270 boutiques worldwide (NZ now has 2) but most of the action occurs online through local sites that are accessed when consumers join the Nespresso Club.

This means that unlike Starbucks, Nespresso isn’t competing for the café customer – it’s targeting the home and office market. That’s me: a free lancer working from home with a twice-a-day habit. My own machine is a Rocket and I’m completely wedded to the ritual of grinding, tamping and pulling the levers to make my morning coffee, but if I wasn’t into all that, I’d be seriously tempted to buy a Nespresso.

The Nespresso espresso

The Nespresso espresso

I rate the coffee  ‘very good’. I might even give it an ‘excellent’ but I’ve only tried 2 of the 21 varieties (which are somewhat pretentiously called grands crus). The sealed aluminium capsules keep the ground coffee super fresh and the extraction system is as effective as it is fascinating. Drop a capsule in the top and the machine does the rest, delivering an espresso with an excellent crema. I like the frothing attachment too: pour in the milk and it uses magnetic technology to stretch the milk to silky perfection. It’s impossible to make a bad coffee. So yes, even a pretentious Wellington coffee snob like myself would be tempted – but not convinced. The machines themselves are relatively inexpensive ($380 for a smart one made by deLonghi) but factor in the capsule cost (.97 – $1.13) and I’d have to curtail my habit.

My verdict: if you appreciate good coffee and cost’s not a factor then join the club, but please, please do save up the empties and take them back to the boutique. All kudos to Nespresso for the effort it has put into recycling but the system is only ever as good as the people who use it.

Footnote: Artist Taika Waitit’s artwork suggests a more creative use for the empties.

Nespresso artwork by Taika Waititi

Nespresso artwork by Taika Waititi

 

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Thanks to Lewis Road Creamery I am awash with milk. I received my sample bottles on Tuesday and I’ve been guzzling it ever since. I’m a huge fan of this company’s cultured butter so I knew its milk would be good – it has a clean, fresh creamy taste that somehow seems better than standard milk – the question is why? What does this artisan company do that’s different?

Milks & Creams Family Shot (1)

Firstly, Lewis Road milk is organic. I do think that makes a difference – Zany Zeus’ organic milk also tastes great.

Lewis Road milk comes from grass-grazing cows that haven’t been fed any waste  products from the palm oil industry. The arguments against this are mostly to do with environmental issues, but that aside – and I don’t know if affects the taste of the milk – I do think it’s wrong to feed cows dusty-looking stuff that comes from the fruit of a tropical palm tree. Cows are meant to eat grass.

Lewis Road produces 100% jersey milk. Jersey milk has a high percentage of milk fat so it does taste creamier.  Milk from standard brands is not separated by breed – it’s a mixture of milks. Currently about 80% of the national herd is either holstein-fresian (the black and white ones) or holstein-fresian/jersey cross. Jersey cows (small and brown) account for only 12%. Jerseys produce milk with higher percentages of milk fat but holstein-fresians beat them on volume – hence the work that has gone into creating the crossbreed which appears to be a good compromise for farmers who are paid on the total quantity of milk solids.

Lewis Road milk claims to be more natural and less processed. In particular it makes a deal out of not adding permeate to its milk. This is where it gets a bit controversial and quite tricky because permeate is a natural component of milk. It is essentially lactose and water and it’s a byproduct of ultra filtration. Large dairy companies like Fonterra use this process to remove proteins which are then used in high-protein, higher-value products. The permeate, which is also separated off, is then added back in various amounts, allowing the final protein levels of the milk to be standardised, thus overcoming any seasonal variability. You can’t really call permeate an additive because it was in the milk in the first place but it is a bit sneaky because the way it’s re-introduced enables factories to adjust, or water down, the milk to the lower end of the minimum allowable protein content. In short, big companies like Fonterra are using all the technology at their disposal to extract the best value out of every litre of milk. You can’t blame the farmer-owned co-operative for doing the best by its farmers and there’s certainly nothing wrong with its milk but the permeate practice is a bit of an eye-opener for those of us who imagined milk was not quite so highly processed. Lewis Road milk is processed too: it’s pasteurised and mostly homogenised; the fat levels are adjusted according to type and the calcium-enriched product must have either been added to or adjusted in some way. It is not milk straight out of the cow, but the processing is minimal and Lewis Road milk does taste like milk used to taste. In this, I’m sure my taste buds are influenced by the charmingly retro (recyclable) bottles. The company’s artisan values are wrapped up in some very smart packaging.

Finally, Lewis Road organic cream: it’s fantastic. I’m sure this is the ‘jersey effect’ – jersey milk being naturally richer – but it’s also because the milk fat levels have been kept higher than the minimum standard of 35%. Lewis Road cream is 39% and its double cream is 48%. Yes, double cream. This is a first for New Zealand. The UK has single (18% min), whipping (35% min) and double (48%) but we have only ever had one type of pouring cream. I had always assumed it was equivalent to double but I was wrong about that. In this leading dairy country of ours, the cream has only ever been as rich as UK whipping cream. I find this just as astounding as the fact our big dairy companies have failed to provide us with cultured butter. It’s all very well to be producing products for export (Fonterra and Westland both make cultured butter for customers offshore) but we haven’t been well served at home. Thank goodness for artisan producers like Lewis Road Creamery. Now we have flavoursome butter, good tasting milk and deliciously rich double cream.

Lewis Road Creamery’s milk and cream products are  available in Auckland and have just been spotted at Moore Wilson in Wellington. Organic Jersey Milk 750ml RRP $3.10. Organic Jersey Cream 300ml RRP $3.99. Double Cream 300ml RRP $4.49

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