Review: Ristorante Cibrèo: Lunch in #Florence, #Tuscany

An instant welcome. Service and style.

Isn’t it nice, to have a nice lunch?

We wanted to top off a week in Italy with a Florentine lunch we would remember. So off we went to Cibrèo. Which Cibrèo? Good question. The local restaurateur Fabio Picchi has three eateries on the same block, just near to the Sant’Ambrogio Market. A trattoria, a caffè, and a ristorante. We went to the Ristorante.

Soon after settling, in an initially daunting but actually quite lovely stroke of intimacy, our waiter pulled up a chair and explained the substantial menu, in tremendous detail. Prima plates, fish and meat courses, plus considered veg options.  We nervously listened then suggested we needed a moment to consider.

But our gastromic guide stayed, and worked it through with us. Pushing through our haughty sense of London propriety, we found that we could make the decision in his presence. He enquired into our preferences, we batted around ideas.  It was more of a dining consultation than a restaurant ordering transaction, and it was, frankly, quite lovely.

Then this happened:

The amuse-bouche: A savoury yoghurt pudding with cumin, tumeric, lemon, extra-virgin olive oil.

The amuse-bouche: A savoury yoghurt pudding with cumin, tumeric, lemon, extra-virgin olive oil.

It was devoured quickly and with quite a lot of ooohing and aaahing. Soon after, a gift from the kitchen arrived.

What a gift it was.

What a gift it was.

Ricotta, chicken kidney mousse, a plethora of crunchy veg antipasto including a dreamy almond paste. Not the sort of gift you’d even consider returning.

Then the primo plates arrived.

A traditional local stew of cabbage, beans and thyme.

A traditional local stew of cabbage, beans and thyme.

 

The star of the show.

The star of the show. Potato flan with ragu.

This potato and rosemary flan with ragu and pecorino was my top dish . The waiter kindly pointed out they should be eaten in one “tic, tac, tic” mouthful. He was right. The flan, more like a soufflé, was light and rich, balanced perfectly with the fatty acidity of the ragu and then sharpness of the salty cheese topped off the lot. Five stars.

Not another surprise, surely?

Then, another surprise from the kitchen. A super sharp yellow pepper soup. Wow.

We were already feeling full. And mains were really quite superb. What a quandary.

These chicken and ricotta balls were so citrusy and delicious, that they required a heavy set stick of bread. Fabulous.

These chicken and ricotta balls were so citrus-ey and delicious, that they required a heavy set stick of bread.

A great veg main. Parmigana, delicate smokey aubergine slices. Tasty béchamel.

A great veg main. Parmigiana, delicate smoky aubergine slices. Tasty béchamel.

Baked in foil, butter like soft, with simple Mediterranean flavours.

Grey Mullet. Baked in foil, butter like soft, with simple Mediterranean flavours.

Such a pleasure, this lunch.

And it continued to please. We had the onerous task of selecting a dessert from a choice of six which, all sounded perfect. In the end , a throwaway comment “we can get flourless chocolate cake another time” was made. This helped us narrow our choices.

A perfect pannacotta. Drenched in syrup.

A perfect pannacotta. Drenched in syrup.

Served with grapefruit and orange jam, a crumbly crust, a serious cheesecake.

Served with grapefruit and orange jam, a crumbly crust, a serious cheesecake.

A solid strawberry tart. Bavarian cream. Well balanced strawberry sauce.

A solid strawberry tart. Bavarian cream. A not too sweet strawberry sauce.

We thought we were done. But another surprise arrived. We wondered if our chocolate cake comment was taken as a challenge. We were happy to conceed.

Flourless choclate cake. Three spoons later, this disappeared.

Flourless choclate cake. Three spoons later, this disappeared.

They were right. You couldn’t get this cake just anywhere. It was light, punchy, sweet yet not over bearing. Full marks.

Wine parings were perfect.

And the obligatory espresso, to polish things off.

And the obligatory espresso, to polish things off.

I thoroughly enjoyed Cibrèo. Even though it was on the pricey side (approx €300 for three, three courses, plus wine), considering the quality of the food and the numerous gifts from the kitchen, it felt like good value.

But most of all, it topped off a spectacular week in Italy, with a warm, welcoming and wonderful experience.

4.5 / 5

A lunch to remember at Ristorante Cibrèo

Ristorante Cibrèo

Via A. del Verrocchio 8/r, Florence, Italy
Phone: 055-2341100
Web: www.edizioniteatrodelsalecibreofirenze.it

Reviewer: Jared April 19, 2014

“La Garmugia”, A vegetarian take on a traditional soup from Tuscany

A vegetarian take on La Garmugia, a traditional Tuscan soup.

With roots dating to the 1600s, La Garmugia is a typical soup from the Lucca commune of Tuscany. I sampled a hurried mouthful in a cute grocer in Lucca one day. Bitey, green and so delicious, it was right up my street. The woman who served me said she often made it without meat. Nice one, I thought. A project.

I’m always mindful when subbing out meat, to take steps to protect the flavour provided by the meat, the fat and the meat based stock. This means no skimping: you have to make a tasty vegetable stock from scratch.

Ingredients

A good splash of extra virgin olive oil, the recipe I was given said 6 tablespoons
2 white onions, cut very finely (or 6 scallion onions)
3 artichokes,  prepared (see instructions here)
100g asparagus (approx 1 bunch)
150g fresh peas
100g broadbeans
Salt & Pepper
1 litre vegetable stock (see Waste not want stock)
Day old bread for croutons

Method

Step 1. I made a stock the night before. Carrots, celery, onion, garlic. Lots of parsley, and the stalks from a bunch of basil. Plenty of seasoning, a good dash of olive oil. But letting it rest, at least overnight, is key.

Vegetable stock

Stock needs to rest overnight to be at it’s best.

Step 2. The vegetables need prepping. Artichokes are tricky to get the hang of but worth it. They’re a rocking veg. Shelling peas and broad beans more straight forward. Trim the asparagus by bending till they break, discard the white end. Get in.

From this...

From this…

To this.

To this.

Step 3. In a heavy based saucepan sauté onion in olive oil until very slightly browned.

You want the onion to be transparent but not too far into the caramelisation process. This is a crisp tasting soup.

Step 4. Add your prepared peas, broad beans and artichokes, cover and cook until soft. It may be necessary to add a little stock at this stage to maintain moisture. If things look are looking too sticky, you’ll know what to do.

Sunshine helps, if you can rustle it up.

Sunshine helps, if you can rustle it up.

Step 5. When vegetables are tender, add the stock and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes. Make some croutons at this point, by toasting squares of day old bread in a knob of butter.

Fifteen minutes of simmer time is all you'll need to get these croutons toasted.

Fifteen minutes of simmer time is all you’ll need to get these croutons toasted.

Step 6. Serve the soup with the croutons. Garnish with a little extra virgin olive oil. Enjoy!

A vegetarian take on La Garmugia, a traditional Tuscan soup.

A vegetarian take on La Garmugia, a traditional Tuscan soup.

I think the vegetables the La Garmugia I had in Lucca were cut smaller, probably about broad bean size. I like my veg chunky, especially the artichokes and asparagus because they have such wonderful shapes. You decide.

 

 

 

Review: Ristorante Venanzio, #Colonnata home of #Lardo

Colonnata, around half an hour from Carrara in the western tip of Tuscany, is simply stunning. This hilltop village is surrounded by massive marble mountains, scarred by centuries of mining for the sought after black and white marble.

These mountains look like they're snow capped all year round. But not because there is so high that they do, it's actually that aspects of marble seems reasonable from a distance.

These mountains look like they’re snow capped all year round. But it’s actually that aspects of marble seams are visible, even from a distance.

In the middle of this village, fronting the main piazza, find Ristorante Venanzio.

We visited in early spring and the outdoor space seemed empty, as did the dining room. I found this puzzling to say the least.

I didn’t feel like I could come to Colonatta and not try the Lardo. You see the EEU recognises Colonnata as the home of this organic, fatty cured meat. It was very good. Silky in fact. Almost sublime.

Even a mostly veg person like myself felt it appropriate to try the Lardo. This is Colonatta after all.

Even a mostly veg person like myself felt it appropriate to not try the Lardo. This is Colonatta after all.

But the hero of our meal was a tagliatelle drenched in truffle.

An exquisite dish.

Drenched equally in sun and truffle, this was an exquisite dish.

The delicate mushroom ravioli, with a equally delicate béchamel sauce, was a very close second.

Mushroom Ravioli

It really was a pillow of deliciousness

The veggie sides were typically Italian. Fairly straightfoward.

I don’t often partake in chocolate deserts, but this semifreddo, complete with coffee and chocolate was one of the most enticing I’ve had in a long time.

Choc, coffee semi-fredo, a must try.

Choc, coffee semifreddo, a must try.

And the classic creme brulée, was done very well.

Yes, amongst other things, these guys know their desserts.

Yes, amongst other things, these guys know their desserts.

After lunch you can take a walk around and enjoy in the views. You can also buy some Lardo to take home, or just admire the pig-inspired paraphernalia. Some might say the real thing is slightly more tasteful.

This is a heavily branded town. Enjoy and be warned.

This is a heavily branded town. Enjoy and be warned.

 

Foodstinct ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ (4)
Non-meat options ♦ ♦ ♦ (3)
Service ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ (4)
Atmosphere ♦ ♦ ♦ (3)

Ristorante VenanzioColonnata, Italy
http://www.ristorantevenanzio.com/Piazza Palestro 3
54033 Colonnata
Carrara
Massa e Carrara
Italy
Reviewer: Jared -
April 2, 2014

Getting jiggy with the #wildflowers in #Tuscany

Incredibly intricate, a beautiful wild poppy

I expected Tuscany to be just creeping out of the slumber of winter. But wandering around the hill tops of Aquilea, a hamlet just to the north of Lucca, I discovered the magic of early spring’s wildflowers bloom.

As they say, a picture tells 1,000 words, so I’ll let those do the talking.

As we set off we saw dandelions and the occasional wild poppy. Little did we know.

As we set off we saw dandelions and the occasional wild poppy. Little did we know.

Meadows of bloom.

Meadows of bloom.

Through the now dominant beds of wildflower we could just peek civilisation in the valley below.

Through the now dominant beds of wildflower we could just peek civilisation in the valley below.

But only sometimes.

But only sometimes.

A lone flower

A lone flower

This fennel leaf made lovely refreshing tea.

This fennel leaf made lovely refreshing tea.

Incredibly intricate, a beautiful wild poppy

Incredibly intricate, a beautiful wild poppy

This wild orchid one of the most beautiful we saw.

This wild orchid one of the most beautiful we saw.

Dandelions catching the sun

Dandelions catching the sun

This little critter I thought quite amazing.

This little critter I thought quite amazing.

I admired that this fella approached his dinner in a full body, face first manner.

I admired that this fella approached his dinner in a full body, face first manner.

Great veg breakfasts in N1 (London Angel, Barnsbury, Highbury)

baked eggs food lab islington

When I started to put together a post listing out my favourite veg-friendly breakfasts and brunches in EC1 and EC2, I soon realised Breakfast in N1 (Angel, Barnsbury, Highbury and the like) had a lot to offer to the veg preferring (dare I say, vegetarian) breakfast eater. So here’s the second in my series on brilliant veg friendly breakfasts in this part of London.

On the high street

The beaten track, as it were, has a number of great places for brunch if you don’t want to venture too far from Highbury or Angel tubes.

Ottolenghi

There’s no avoiding Ottolenghi’s Islington. It’s an institution. Effortlessly fresh and friendly, this place evokes the casual cool I experienced in Sydney cafe’s in the noughties. It’s one of my favourites.

Effortlessly cool. Breakfast at Ottolenghi is a always a treat.

Effortlessly cool. Breakfast at Ottolenghi is a always a treat. The french toast is terribly sweet, but in a good way. And the welsh rarebit terribly cheesey.

Ottolenghi has it going on, the coffee is top notch, the menu always a little inspired. Mostly there’s at least one veggie hot option, and if in doubt, the toast at your table bread basket option is great, as is the quite sublime banana spread that it’s served with. If you’ve the space in your schedule, go on a weekday to avoid the weekend queues.

Ottolenghi Upper Street opens 8am (9am on Sundays), breakfast till 12pm (1pm on Sundays). Phone 020 7288 1454.
Ottolenghi on Urbanspoon

Foodlab

I think of Food lab as “Angel surprise” on busy Essex Road. Foodlab is a cafe, bakery and food catering business, which has over the last year ventured into breakfast. A welcome switch from the crowded brunch spots in the main of Angel, it’s got a rustic charm, friendly service and a pretty comprehensive brunch menu which includes plenty of veg options.

A rustic interior, a wide selection of on-premises baked goods and a not bad at all breakfast menu.

A rustic interior, a wide selection of on-premises baked goods (shown here a cheese and courgette slider) and a not bad at all breakfast menu (here are their baked eggs).

The  menu mixes Foodlab’s Italian heritage and British staples, from the full English to the now fairly ubiquitous baked eggs and toast. All are served alongside a wide selection of cakes, filled small rolls and a fresh salad bar.

Foodlab is open everyday from 7am (Sunday’s 10am). 56 Essex Rd, N1 8LR. Phone: 020 7226 1001.
Food Lab on Urbanspoon

Barnbsury Favourites

Being a Barnsbury local, It’s been a delight to see these gems pop up, right around the corner.

Sunday

This charming café and restaurant is tucked away on leafy Hemmingford Road, around a ten minute walk from Angel. The café serves breakfast classics like eggs benedict, mushrooms and spinach on good tasty bread, and fab coffee. I’ve heard it often said their french toast is amazing, though I’ve not yet tried. There’s also fresh squeezed orange juice served in jars.

A neighbourhood feel: Fresh breakfast classics in a tasteful, friendly atmosphere.

A neighbourhood feel: Fresh breakfast classics in a tasteful, friendly atmosphere.

Sunday has a lovely neighbourhood charm and plenty of friendly service.

Sunday opens at 8.30am Tuesday to Friday and Weekends at 10am. 169 Hemingford Rd, N1 1DA. Phone: 020 7607 3868. See also: Full Review: Brunch at Sunday – Hemingford Rd, London N1.

Sunday on Urbanspoon

Pistachio and Pickle

The boys who run Pistachio and Pickle have turned a difficult spot, real estate wise, into a popular café and deli, becoming quite the part of the Barnsbury scene. Great coffee and a solid brunch menu. I love the mushrooms on sourdough. They also do a great afternoon tea if you sleep through breakfast.

There's a secret ingredient in Pistachio and Pickle's cheese toastie. And the mushrooms on sourdough is one of my favs.

There’s a secret ingredient in Pistachio and Pickle’s cheese toastie. And the mushrooms on sou dough is one of my favs.

Pistachio and Pickle opens at 8am on Saturdays and 9am on Sunday. Brunch is served till 2pm on Weekends. 237 Liverpool Road, N1 1LX. See also: Pistachio and Pickle Dairy, Camden Passage.

Pistachio & Pickle Coffee and Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Around Highbury & Islington

If there’s an award for the most improved in London breakfasts suburbs, I think Highbury may be a contender. These two spots have opened in the last year or so, and both seriously upped the game. Thank the lord this part of London has got some good, independant spots for Coffee and breakfast treats. Allthough, there’s still room in the market for some short-order cooking, if you ask me.

Masion d’etrie

If you’re willing to venture even further north, the trip to Masion d’etrie is well worth it. This popular coffee shop, as well as being abundantly cute, serves great coffee and a yummy selection of pastries and sandwiches. On weekends’ there’s ‘a brunch menu too, though I ‘ve not tried.

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Exceedingly cute, and tasty. The jams are sweet and bursting with fruit, perfectly top off a slice of proper brioche. And the yoghurt smothered with a decadent plum gumbo must be tried.

Masion d’etrie is open weekdays 7.30am – 7pm, and 9am – 6pm on weekends. 154 Canonbury Road, N1 2UP.

Vagabond N7

If you’re looking for pop-up feeling, ultra über hipster coffee then look no further. Vagabond has two locations, this one on Holloway Road looks like a. The menu is straight forward, omelettes with a few fillings, sandwiches and soup. Banana bread. Get it? Got it. Coffee from Extract Coffee in Bristol and is what you’d expect from the decor, clientele and baristas: well crafted espresso and aeropress. Friendly staff.

The coffee's great, service friendly and the omelettes aren't bad either, at Vagabond N7.

The coffee’s great, service friendly and the omelettes aren’t bad either, at Vagabond N7.

Vagabond N7 is open 7am till 7pm every day. 105 Holloway Rd N7 8LT.

 

 

What does food mean to you?

What does food mean to you?

For some it’s just fuel. For others it’s a defining part of life. Many people make a living, even define themselves based on food. But let’s get deep and discuss, what food means. Beneath the surface.

Food as a disorder

The stats are astounding, it’s startling, but it seems nowadays most all of us have difficulty in our relationship with food. Some starve, others over indulge. It’s caught up with a multiplicity of issues, and it seems there are just as many explanations for why this is so.

It’s startling, … most all of us have difficulty in our relationship with food. Some starve, others over indulge.

For eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, there’s masses of research pointing to body image, the impact of media, unresolved childhood trauma and a need to control. Then there’s obesity. Now an epidemic, in my opinion we’re less far with our understanding of. Though much research has been done, and points to generational issues, education, poverty, marketing and lifestyle, I think it goes deeper than that. We’re eating more to fill a whole, and it’s not a physical hunger. It’s an emotional one.

I would summarise it simply: if we feel good about ourselves, and I mean truly, deeply good, then we eat well. It’s when we are out of emotional balance (and that can be for a huge number of reasons) that we start to get off kilter with our eating patterns. Then it gets more complex, often, our eating can influence how we feel. This isn’t a simple causal relationship, it’s two way, and when it starts to miss-fire, it’s quite hard to correct.

Food as status

White bread was once, only for the rich. The finest, purest flour was hard to come by before the industrial revolution and mass wheat processing. Then, white bread was a symbol of power. By the late 20th century this was reversed, with artisan-wholegrain-sour-dough-spelt pumpkin-seed-loaf becoming a symbol of sophistication (and, urbane snobery), while white loaves became “chav” bread.

Jokes aside, there are serious issues to the continued class-system in our food chain. While it’s OK for lower socio economic groups in the UK to shop for frozen pre-fab food at Iceland,  the rich go for high quality organic at Waitrose or Wholefoods and wouldn’t be seen dead slapping their behind’s at ASDA. Since when did you have to be rich to have food that was healthy? Ummm… pretty much since societies were big enough to be hierarchical.

Food as a part of your identity

Let’s take breakfast as an example. On my walk to work, I pass through Exmouth Market in Central London. On my right there’s a sticky looking workers café, serving fried bread, baked beans and strong, sweet tea, being drunk by people having a laugh. On my left, aero-press coffee, scrambled eggs, (again on sourdough), and again, people having  a laugh. But the demographic split in those choosing each is striking.

One, eaten on a table of polished recycled timber, the other on a well-worn laminate. If the eyes of each breakfast eater meet, what might be seen? To one, a snob? To another, a luddite, lacking sophistication? These aren’t just throw away labels, these projections reflect an inner sense of who we are and who we are not. They point to how we define ourselves, in this inter-relational bun-fight we call life.

Food as something special: are we losing it?

I fear at times that we might be loosing the specialness of food. With so much food eaten on the go, so many meals degraded to TV watching, out of the box experiences, are we at risk of degrading food to simply calories and marketing?

It’s clear to me that food has been a massive part of human culture and experience since cave man times. A coming together, a celebration of life and of love. Of occasion. Are we losing this, in our modern, busy and sometimes isolated world?

So what does it mean to you? Leave a comment below. Spill your guts. Go on.

Polenta Chip, Sprout & Fennel Salsa | Recipe from Tom @CaravanExmouth

Dappled in spring sun: Think earthy polenta with a healthy splash of fresh.

This week I sat down for lunch with a friend at Caravan, Exmouth market. It was a beautiful spring day, I joked with the maitre de that the table was perfectly dappled in spring sunlight. As we sat and the specials were recited, we spontaneously ordered one of each.

Pretty soon we were snacking on mackeral pâté, a humongous Welsh rarebit-cum-Croc Madame, complete with fried egg. But perhaps most exciting, the fried polenta chips, topped with a surprising salsa on a bitey chipolte crème fraîche. Well balanced and fresh. We were impressed.

Afterwards I caught up with Tom Ewer, who has recently returned to Caravan group. He says he created the dish to capture the warmth of the coming spring, yet still be refreshing. And refreshing it is, the Fennel Top and Sprout are both added raw, bringing a unique “green kick” as he puts it. I agree, it felt like spring in the garden. You can follow Tom @TWF_Ewer.

Tom’s Polenta Chip, Sprout & Fennel Top Salsa, Chipotle Crème Fraîche (serves 4)

Ingredients

100g Polenta
400mls Milk
50g Butter
1 Bay leaf
1 Thyme sprig

4 Tbls Fennel top chopped
4 Tbls Brussel Sprout chopped
2 Tbls Coriander chopped
1 Lime juice & zest
1 tsp English mustard
1/2 Garlic clove
30mls Olive oil
1 tsp sea salt

6 Tbls Crème Fraîche
1/2 tsp Chipotle paste (1/2 tsp smoked Paprika & pinch Cayenne if unavailable)

4 Coriander sprigs
1-2 tsp smoked Paprika

Method

This is a great dish to snack on, or as a starter for a meal with friends as all can be prepared before hand. For the polenta, combine milk, bay, thyme and slowly heat, when hot but not boiling, remove herbs and add butter. Once the butter is melted, slowly add polenta and whisk until when tasted, it is not grainy. Season to taste with salt. Pour into a lined tray and refrigerate, it wont take long to set. Please note that a number of things can be added to the polenta in the last stage, cheese, olives, fresh herbs.

Now for the green sauce or salsa verde with a twist! Chop cleaned fennel tops, sprouts, coriander and add to either a pestle and mortar or a food processor. Continue to purée the garlic with a little sea salt between your knife and board add to mix along with the English mustard and the zest of the lime and most of the juice. Save a little for the crème fraîche. Make a rough paste with the mix and slowly add the olive oil. Season to taste.

Combine the crème fraîche with the chipotle or substitute and the left over lime juice, then refrigerate.

When you come to serving, your polenta after an hour in the fridge will be set, remove from tin and cut into long triangles, three per person. Fry in vegetable oil until golden brown, then remove and rest on some kitchen towel and season with a little salt. To plate, smear the crème fraîche on the base, top with the polenta stacked. Finally spooning over the salsa and topping with a little paprika and coriander.

Enjoy!

My take on #vegetarian eats in #London

I don’t purport to be fully blown vegetarian, but I love veg. And I maintain that cooking sans meat takes a lot of imagination and confidence. I got asked today for a list of good vegetarian restaurants in London, so here’s my take:

Restaurants

Vanilla Black is where I tend to recommend to friends if they want a Michelin rated, vegetarian meal. It’s got a casual elegance and a menu which allows a novelty to veggies conditioned to goats’ cheese tart and mushroom risotto…. choice!

17- 18 Tooks Court, EC4A 1LB – 020 7242 2622 – www.vanillablack.co.uk – Lunch (Monday-Friday) – Friday 12 – 2.30pm and Dinner (Monday-Saturday) 6 – 10pm.

Itadiki Zen is not just vegetarian, it’s fully vegan and very traditionally Japanese. And it’s certainly unique. I love the subtlety of flavour and the craftsmanship with which the food is prepared. The aesthetic can only be described as authentically rustic – and it belies the depth of what this place offers. Read a full review here.

139 King’s Cross Rd, London WC1X 9BJ – 020 7278 3573 - www.itadakizen-uk.com – Open Mon-Fri  12.00-2.30pm and Mon-Sat  5.30-10pm.​

Mildreds is often touted as the original (founded in 1988) and sometimes the best. It makes my list because it’s always raved about, but I have to be honest – I’ve not been. Every time I’ve thought to go there’s been a massive queue and, in a nod to the trends of more recently opened restaurants, they don’t take bookings. Meh.

45 Lexington Street, W1F 9AN – 020 7494 1634 - www.mildreds.co.uk - Open 12noon – 11pm Monday to Saturday

Amico-Bio boasts food that is not only organic and vegetarian it’s also authentically Italian, so authentic that some of the ingredients are sourced from an Italian farm the same family run. It’s been a while since I visited and some recent reviews say it’s a little hit and miss, but on balance, I’d still give it a go. Their Barbican location is a little off piste, but the walk through the back-streets is a bit of fun. There’s  also a branch in Holborn.

44 Cloth Fair, EC1A 7JQ – 020 7600 7778 – www.amicobio.co.uk – Monday to Friday 12 to 3pm, 5pm to 10.30pm, Saturday 5:00pm to 10:30pm.

The Gate, originally of Notting Hill fame, recently expanded into St Johns Road, Islington. It’s modern, spacious interior is certainly pleasing. I find the food somewhat straight forward. I’ve  had meals where the same sauce appears in two or three dishes and I fear, at least the Notting Hill branch, is more geared toward fast turnaround Sadlers’ Wells clientèle than discerning diners. Still,a solid option.

370 St John Street, EC1V 4NN – 0207 278 5483 thegaterestaurants.com – Open daily for Lunch 12-2.30pm and dinner 5-10.30pm.

Cafés and Snacks

For cafe’s and snacks, there are three that I think are worth a try. Though I have to admit, if you’re the kind of veggie who doesn’t mind their being meat on the menu, I think Morito and both of the Caravan’s have a good range of veggie food.

In my mind, Food for Thought is the quintessential London vegetarian lunch spot. The wood panelled, tiny, downstairs interior forces getting up close and personal with other veggies. Often the most friendly diners you’ll find inside the M25, I tell you. They do great soup and salad combos, plus have three or four hot mains every lunch time that often sell out. It’s not going to win awards for plushness or culinary sophistication, but it’s hearty, quick and reliable.

31 Neal Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9PR – 020 7836 0239 – foodforthought-london.co.uk Monday – Saturday 12-10.30pm, Sunday 12-5.30pm.

Grab a toasted sandwich and a yummy hot soup. Little Orchard is a lunch time offering from the team behind Vanilla Black. There’s also great coffee and very friendly service, but only a table or two but the nearby Grey’s Inn Gardens is a great picnic spot.

6 Laystall St, EC1R 0AP – 020 7831 2715 – www.orchard-kitchen.co.uk – Open Monday-Friday 8am-8pm, and Saturdays 10am-7pm.

IMG_0713

Toasted sandwich at Little Orchard. Some of the cheeses they select are really quite astounding. Cute, no?

Certainly more shabby than chic, but friendly and honest, is Candid Café, at the Candid Arts Trust. Located very centrally, it’s a bit of an escape from the bustle of Angel. Perhaps because you have to climb three or four flights of stairs to find the place. Candid serves a variety of “Mediterranean style” “meat and veg dishes”. The coffee isn’t stella, but they’ve a range of great pukka teas.

3 Torrens St, EC1V 1NQ -020 7278 9368 – candidarts.com – Open Mon-Sat 12-10pm, Sun 12-5pm.

Great veg breakfasts in EC1 & EC2 (Clerkenwell, Old Street)

A few years ago a veggie breakfast in central London meant picking the bacon off your fry up at a greasy spoon on Chapel Market. Don’t deny you’ve never had it: fried bread, eggs, tinned beans. All served cheerlessly on a sticky plastic table.

Well, kiss those days goodbye. There’s been a proliferation of more modern forms of brunch, east of Greys’ Inn Road, that get the Foodstinct seal of approval.

Why? because their coffee is good, their breakfasts’ are mood-lifting. And, perhaps most of all, because when you eat at these places you can tell that some heart’s been put into it.

Although I’m not a vegetarian, some people very close to me are, and I try to minimise my meat intake. So these places are selected as, although they’re not pure veggie, they cater well to non-meat options.

Movers and Shakers

In my book, these are the cream of breakfast and brunch in this part of London.

Caravan Exmouth Market

I’m a big fan of going back to a place which is good, or taking friends who’ve never been. Caravan is one place I love being a regular and quite often, it’s for breakfast. The casual yet sharp, friendly yet professional service also helps. They roast their own coffee and craft it with skill. But most of all I go for the food.

Sometimes I wonder if I eat Brunch at Caravan Exmouth Market too often. But how often is too often?

Sometimes I wonder if I eat Brunch at Caravan Exmouth Market too often? From top left, coconut bread with lemon curd and rhubarb, menu outdoor table (must have been summer), poached eggs & avocado on toast with chilli flakes, scrambled with mushroom side, poached with tomato side, more poached and a blueberry muffin.

Caravan’s breakfast menu is similar to its lunch and dinner selection, in that it has a focus on vibrant dishes with internationally influence. What I like most about Caravan is their celebration of veg. As well as breakfast cornerstones of bacon and salmon there’s usually one or two meat free options. Baked eggs with tomato ragout and Greek yoghurt, or an aubergine and butternut squash plate. Then there’s eggs with a number of sides (choose from thyme roast tomatoes, creamy soya mushrooms, for example), on great sourdough or granary, as you like. And don’t get me started on their sweet options, the coconut bread with lemon curd, quite heavenly.

Caravan Exmouth Market is open 7 days, brunch menu till 4pm on weekends. 11-13 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QD. Phone 020 7833 8115. http://www.caravanonexmouth.co.uk See also: Caravan Exmouth vs Caravan Kings Cross

Square Meal Caravan Exmouth Market on Urbanspoon

Modern Pantry

The Modern Pantry is a restaurant, café and deli situated in the heart of ultra urbane Clerkenwell, St Johns Square. The restaurant is quite excellent, with MBE awarded restaurateur Anna Hansen at the helm. As well as lunch, dinner and afternoon tea, they serve brunch and breakfast, every day of the week in a bustling, bright and very comfortable space.

Modern pantry's breakfast range from well done simple classics (like this, haloumi, spinach, tomatoes and poachies) through to more adventurous, often fusion choices.

Modern pantry’s breakfast range from classy classics (like this, haloumi, spinach, tomatoes and poachies) through to more adventurous, often fusion choices.

The Modern Pantry brings it’s restaurants’ exotic and refreshingly innovative approach to food to their excellent café brunch menu. Although meaty, the rendang mince on toast with lime dressing, or the Tea smoked salmon give you an idea of how they combine local classics with international influences. Very good coffee and refined service.

The Modern Pantry does breakfast on weekdays 8-11 and a leisurely brunch from 8 on Saturday and 9 on Sunday. 47-48 St John’s Square, EC1V 4JJ. Phone 020 7553 9210. http://www.themodernpantry.co.uk

Get in to the Modern Pantry early on the weekend and enjoy a slow latte before the crowds arrive.

Get in to the Modern Pantry early on the weekend and enjoy a slow latte before the crowds arrive.

Square Meal Modern Pantry on Urbanspoon

Workshop Coffee

Occupying two floors of a characterful red brick building on Clerkenwell Road, Workshop won Observers’ Best Vegetarian Breakfast in 2012 when it was called St Ali, and frankly, I’m not surprised. I’ve gone gaga over the corn fritters with haloumi and poached eggs. And then there’s the mushroom and asparagus number (pictured below), so strikingly verdant and, delicious.

This is what I call a veg friendly breakfast. Mushrooms, asparagus, poached eggs and polenta. I think I may have subbed Salmon for the mushroom.

This is what I call a veg friendly breakfast. Mushrooms, asparagus, poached eggs and polenta. I think I may have subbed Salmon for the mushroom.

Workshop is a bit of an institution in the London independent coffee scene, and a selection of beans are roasted on premises and available espresso or aeropressed. Have a sticky beak out back if you get the chance, the coffee roasting machine is there, alongside a living garden wall, all dabbled in light from the skylight above.

Workshop Coffee opens 7.30 on Weekdays and 8 on Weekends. 27 Clerkenwell Road, EC1M 5RN. Phone 0207 253 5754. http://www.workshopcoffee.com

Square Meal Workshop Coffee - Clerkenwell on Urbanspoon

Relatively recent east-end breakfast additions

Heading further to the East, a few new(ish) brunch spots have sprung up around the Old Street area. My favourites are both Aussie run and both do a good veggie breakfast spread.

Ozone Roastery

OK, so the first of my new arrivals, isn’t that new. Another full blown roastery with a short order kitchen on the side, Ozone’s breakfast menu is great. Quick, hot, tasty dishes. The eggs selection is extensive, including the Ozone omelette complete with peppers, fried onions and spinach. They do a great homemade baked bean too, plus a good selection of baked breakfast treats, yoghurts, granola and the like. Sit upstairs, around the back if you like to watch the kitchen in action.

fdafds

fdafds

Ozone Roastery is open weekdays 7.30am through 5pm and 9am – 4pm on weekdays. Phone 020 7490 1039. 1 Leonard Street, EC2A 4AQ. http://www.ozonecoffee.co.uk

Square Meal Ozone Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon

Salvation Jane

Salvation Jane is the latest offering from the team behind Lantana in Fitzrovia. It’s a modern, concrete floor, exposed services in the ceiling typed affair. I have to admit being sceptical when I first walked in, weary they might have sold out to market force and lost the quaint deliciousness of their original offering. But, thankfully, they haven’t. Despite the maxi capacity of this EC2 diner, the food, service and coffee means Salvation Jane maintains a sense of quality and finesse.

Taking veggie back. This stack of mushroom, goats cheese, poached agg and cheesie polenta is kind of rocking.

Be my breakfast salvation. This stack of thyme roast mushroom, goats cheese, poached agg and cheesie polenta is kind of rocking.

The menu is packed with breakfast choices. Only one of the hot dishes (the above polenta cakes, which were very good) is veg friendly, unless you get eggs or start subbing. But there’s also a wide range of smaller breakfast treats, like muesli, yogurt, coconut bread with ricotta and pistachio. You get the drift? Oh and if you’re Australian feeling a little nostalgic. Vegemite on white sourdough. Sniff sniff.

Salvation Jane opens for brunch 8 to 11.30am on weekdays and from 9am to 3.30pm on weekends. 55 City Road, EC1Y 1HQ. Phone: 020 7253 5273. http://www.salvationjanecafe.co.uk/

Square Meal Salvation Jane on Urbanspoon

Off the beaten track…

If you’re really keen to avoid the high street crowds and, in so doing, don’t mind a little extra walk, then consider venturing to these smaller but still very good breakfast spots.

The Clerkenwell Kitchen

I love that this place has food served with passion. They partner with UK based suppliers so food is seasonal, as well as being well prepared and presented. I’m not a huge fan of their coffee and sadly they were a bit light on hot veggie options when I went a few months ago, but their breakfast options include eggs many ways as well as classics like fruit and granola.

A country-style atmosphere and solid breakfast awaits at the Clerkenwell Kitchen.

A country-style atmosphere and breakfast prepared with passion awaits at the Clerkenwell Kitchen.

The Clerkenwell Kitchen serves breakfast 8-11am every weekday. They’re also open Saturdays (despite what their website says, but to be sure, call them). 27-31 Clerkenwell Close, EC1R 0AT. Phone: 0207 101 9959. http://www.theclerkenwellkitchen.co.uk/www/

Square Meal Clerkenwell Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

Most popular posts, pics: looking back on 2013

tasmanian_vegetables_landing_arrival

From cronuts to horsemeat, 2013 has been an eventful year on a culinary level. As profound as cronuts were, lets focus on the latter. The “horsemeat scandal” triggered, finally, some mainstream awareness that food isn’t always what it’s marketed to be. Since, there’s been a fairly constant stream of media coverage, documentaries and shifts in eating paterns. It seems to me that sustainability and ethical provenance movements in cooking and eating are gathering steam. Could this be the start of looking at food as more than a fad, more than simply fuel? I hope so.

Snapping this, eating that

Back to me – this year I was lucky enough to cook, eat and travel to, some great food. And with the chance to write and blog about it, I’ve been stoked to get in touch with the significance of food in my life. The quickest way to summarise, has to be with a quick video, right?

Top 10 Posts of 2013

Over the year some of the posts that have been most popular have been a bit of a surprise to me. Here are my most popular posts, by visits, for the year.

[10] At the start of 2013 on a trip to Australia I wrote my 10th most popular post for the year, a review of a cafe called Rueben Hills in Sydney. I wasn’t overly impressed, to me it wasn’t in keeping with the perhaps romanticised memories I had of Sydney cafe’s.

[9] I really didn’t expect a quick email I wrote to a friend, recommending some of my favourite London eating spots would do quite so well. It came in at 9.

Clickable? It seems so.

Think these blood oranges are clickable? It seems so.

[8] Thanks mainly to google images, the Blood Orange Drizzle Cake I baked has had heaps  of visits. I’m looking forward to those sweet crimson delights are back in season so I can make it again.

[7] Last years’ walking tour of Clerkenwell Coffee is, evidently, still down with the kids, number 7 in my top ten. It probably needs an update, as the amount of good coffee in EC1 is always on the up.

[6] One of my favourite posts for the year, A river cottage wedding was my sixth most popular post. I really enjoyed it, both because it captured such a memorable moment, but it also set off a summer of fabulous eating. There was a similar locally sourced, seasonal theme in both my Cornwall Foodie Holiday and Quality Chop House reviews, which sadly, didn’t make the top 10.

[5] One of my earliest posts (July 2012, whoa!), but one which still captures some of the essence of the way I like to cook, had a seasonal resurgence this year. One of a series about using up leftover or overripe veg, my How to Salvage Overripe cherries post was a surprise at number 5. Quite synchronously, I’ve a massive bag of cherries in the freezer I rescued from Sainsbury’s a week or so ago. They’re going into something special for New Year’s Eve. After which, this cherry post might get a much needed tidy up.

[4] I asked if Tesco owned coffee can be authentic early this year. As Harris + Hoole has continued to grow, interest in this post has been consistent. I’d like to catch up with Nick again soon to hear how things are going.

All of the top 3 posts of the year are reviews of local, Islington food businesses. I guess home is where the heart is?

[3] My take on Bills in Angel., should I say, giving them a little bit of angry stick, still gets a steady trickle of traffic, making it my 3rd top post.

[2] Another somewhat unexpected hit, but when the culinarycreep left London, I decided to visit and review a restaurant we’d both seen but never visited. It was Pho Express on Upper Street, and since I reviewed this hole in the wall eatery, I’ve been a few times since.

[1] Finally, it’s my number 1 post for the year. And it’s to a review of my ultra local cafe, Sunday on Hemmingford, Barnbsury. This post has been getting loads of traffic, probably because it’s appearing nice and high in google searches.

If you’ve reading this then you just might be someone who’s contributed to these page views. Thanks so much for reading my blog and contributing to what’s been a food filled 2013.

All the best, Jared (@foodstinct)