Organic #Islington: @Riverford opens at @DukeOrganic

It seems like the most natural partnership in the world – Riverford Organics, suppliers of fine veg boxes from the rolling Devon countryside – and London’s original organic gastropub, the Duke of Cambridge. After all, the owners of both businesses, Guy Watson and Geetie Singh are now married to each other. What could be better?

Organic and in-season: Guy Watson and Geetie Singh.

Organic and in-season: Guy Watson and Geetie Singh.

On launch night, a little corner of Islington has been transformed into an urban farm, spilling over with huge bunches of cavolo nero, giant cardoons, piles of cabbages and pumpkins, proper mud-covered carrots.

Among the crowd packed inside, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is forging towards the bar, while Valentine Warner is sporting a new tweed cap he’s only just bought. There are trays of innovative vegetable cocktails being ferried around: one with beetroot and amaretti, another with carrot, ginger and whisky. They’re proving very popular. So popular, indeed, that they’re promptly made part of the regular menu.

Beetroot and amaretti cocktail, another with carrot, ginger and whisky,

Beetroot and amaretti cocktail, another with carrot, ginger and whisky,

Hugh clambers up onto a table to make a speech of welcome, followed by Guy Watson who confesses he fell for Geetie in a field of radicchio “Given our shared enthusiasm for beer, food and vegetables, it was only a matter of time before we brought it all together.”

The opening ceremony.

The opening ceremony.

The Hemsley Sisters among the culinary stars at the launch of Riverford at the Duke of Cambridge.

The Hemsley Sisters among the culinary stars at the launch of Riverford at the Duke of Cambridge.

I remember the Duke of Cambridge when it first opened: it was truly innovative. Everything was organic, and fiercely seasonal and local. The ever-changing menu, chalked on a blackboard, changed so often that dishes would be rubbed off half way through service and replaced with something else.

Now the new Riverford collaboration will make their fresh produce the star of the show. There’s an example of the kind of food they’ll be offering written up at the back: chard, potato and stilton gratin. Purple sprouting broccoli with almonds and toasted breadcrumbs. For the meat lovers, braised shin of beef with mushrooms, bacon and red wine.

Cavallo Nero Fritters with Coconut Chutney

Cavallo Nero Fritters with Coconut Chutney

The selection of canapes at the launch were a good sign of things to come. We enjoyed a vibrant beetroot dip with excellent sourdough, some deep fried shards of cardoon with pesto, spiced kale fritters with a coconut chutney and a whole roasted satsuma which had almost turned savoury in the heat, mellowed with a light caramel sauce.

Roasted Satsuma with Honey and Cinnamon.

Roasted Satsuma with Honey and Cinnamon.

Alongside the restaurant there’ll be a weekly produce market on Saturday mornings when you can choose between five seasonal favourites. And next year there’ll be a whole series of cookery demonstrations and masterclasses – from butchery to baking.

So if like me, the nearest you normally get to a farm is the omnibus edition of the Archers – then get yourself to the Duke of Cambridge. A case of having your veg, and eating it too.

Felicity Spector (@FelicitySpector) is deputy programme editor, Channel 4 News and writes for a number of UK food blogs. She sure knows a celery from a cardoon.

4 / 5

Organic #Islington: @Riverford opens at @DukeOrganic

Duke of Cambridge

30 St Peters St , Islington, London N1 8JT
Phone: (020) 7359 3066
Web: sloeberry.co.uk

Reviewer: Felicity, November 6, 2014

Square MealDuke of Cambridge on Urbanspoon

Sicily’s Northeast: Cefalù, Taormina and Mount Etna

If you find you need a rest from the tastes, sounds and sights of Sicily’s bustling cities, fear not, even in the countryside you’ll be in for a sensate feast. The seismic shift of place from city to country is trumped only by the differences you’ll find between Sicily’s regions. The Northwest’s Spanish influence graduates to a much more Italian feel (if there’s such a thing?), as you approach the crossing to mainland Italy at Messina.

This two day trip from Palermo took in Taormina and it’s ancient amphitheatre, as well as the stunning and not to be missed Mount Etna.

Cefalù: Jewel in Sicily’s Northern Crown

Driving east from Palermo, our first stop was Cefalù, a picturesque resort town clustered around a rocky headland. We explored the narrow streets of the old town, and stopped for lunch in the square in front of the stunning cathedral.

Pretty as a postcard, Cefalù beachfront.

Pretty as a postcard, Cefalù beachfront.

This beach is a must. It’s one of the most popular on this stretch of coast. Big enough to spread out the crowd and with plenty of sand. We clambered out to the point where you can fix a lock to attest your undying love, in a slightly more spacious way than Paris’ Pont des Arts.

Cefalù: attack a lock and your love is forever.

Cefalù: fix a lock and your love is forever.

Taormina: an idyllic hideaway to explore the Northeast

We thought Sicily was smaller than it is. It took us almost three hours driving on a surprisingly expensive looking, startlingly empty motorway from Cefalù to Taormina. So if you’re planning on seeing different parts of the island you’re best bet is to plan to stay in several places, or you’ll be forever driving. Taormina is well situated to give access to Catania, Messina and the foreboding Mt Etna.

Picturesque, sure. But the tourist sites at Taormina and Etna sure pull crowds.

Picturesque, sure. But the tourist sites at Taormina and Etna sure pull crowds.

But most of all, if you stay on the coastal part of town you’re going to escape some of the crowds which can get a bit much, especially in high summer.

We stayed in a brilliant villa, nestled amongst lush gardens and a stone’s throw from the gorgeous sheltered beach for which historically made Taormina a resort town. There’s a spacious deck which is great for outdoor meals in the summer and three large bedrooms if you are a larger group.

We ate every meal outdoors on the massive deck.

We ate every meal outdoors on the massive deck.

But the deck, garden and proximity to the beach are what I liked most about this place.

... and who wouldn't want to be a stones' throw from this?

… and who wouldn’t want to be a stones’ throw from this?

From down here, you’re also a short a funicular ride away from the centre of Taormina, the ampitheatre, and the crowds – just in case you need a hit of the action.

The secluded bay at Taormina, our Solo Sicily villa had direct beach access.

The secluded bay at Taormina, our soloSicily villa had direct access to this gorgeous beach.

We had some great food in Taormina too; for a quick low fuss snack Cafe Solaris on Via Don Bosco does a awesome tomato and mozzarella crêpe.

Simple but surprisingly tasty: a Tomato and Mozzarella Crepe.

Simple but surprisingly tasty: a Tomato and Mozzarella Crepe.

We recommend the Ristorante Castelluccio, on the coastal edge of Taormina, with great service, a classic Sicilian menu and a charming outdoor dining area which is perfect for summer evenings.

The local speciality of Sardines, Fennel and Breadcrumb pasta. So tasty.

The local specialty of Sardines, Fennel and Breadcrumb pasta. So tasty.

Visit Mount Etna, but learn from our mistakes.

Etna is a fantastic experience, the spectacular views and stark mountain scenery make it well worth the trip. I’d go so far as to say it’s a must see. We had a few Etna fails. So learn from our mistakes!

  1. Know where you are going: OK, this seems obvious, but somehow we managed to follow directions to the head office of a tour company which runs trips up Etna but is based in the centre of Nicolosi. If you’re driving, you want to get to one of two base stations where you can get a chairlift to top of the mountain. The Southern base station is not in the town but you can find on this Google map.
  2. Take something warm: Again, this might seem obvious, but we were oblivious to the fact we’d be leaving the 25ºc temps of the coast for sub 10ºc temperatures at the summit.
  3. Go early the highest reaches of the Etna journey are closed when the light fails or if the weather is bad. Going early in the day will give you a chance to get right to the top.

And have one of these Arancine on the way down. Apparently it’s tradition.

Arancine, with a side of fluffy clouds.

Arancine, with a side of fluffy clouds.

But even with our navigational errors, it was quite a day trip. Luckily, the owners of our villa had left a great local wine, which we could sip as we enjoyed the sunset.

Arrived_in__Taormina_and_our_hosts__soloSicily_left_this_delicious_welcome_gift_of_local__wine__ObsessedWithItaly

The local wine helped us relax after our busy day of Sicilian sight-seeing.

Thanks to soloSicily for hosting us in Taormina. soloSicily has five properties in Taormina and villa’s and apartments throughout Sicily, both on the coast and inland. Find out more at soloSicily.

 

@FelicitySpector Visits @EthosFoods

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It’s a great idea, Ethos, although still something of a work in progress. First off, the design: a fantastically bright, open space with floor to ceiling windows flooding the place with light. There are trees, too, in a dramatic line through the restaurant, lending a coolly Scandi feel to the place – and a welcome that was a whole lot warmer than the weather outside. There is, of course, a concept, though one that barely needs explaining. There are platters of food arranged on two tables, all of it vegetarian, some of it hot and the rest a range of salads. You help yourself, on a small or large plate, and pay for it by weight.

A colourful beetroot and quinoa salad.

A colourful beetroot and quinoa salad.

The strap line – Deliciously Different – suggests a healthy, vibrant, eclectic mix, and Ethos almost achieves it. The only drawback, on our 8.30pm visit, was that the food on display had been sitting out for a while. Nevertheless, I chose an interesting mix of salads, including lentils with shaved celeriac, quinoa and beetroot, roasted sweet potato with a touch of goats cheese and spinach, and some slightly watery courgette ribbons. The hot dishes all looked a bit spicy for me, with my chilli allergy, so I tried a sort of pancake concoction on the side. My friend loaded his plate with practically everything, something to beware when it comes to paying up: my modest meal came to a reasonable £7.70 but my friend stacked up a bill of almost £17, partly because he was so tempted to try so many things. If you’re the all-you-can-eat sort of person, you might prefer the unlimited brunch which Ethos puts on at weekends, for one set price.

Tempted or dainty, you choose.

Tempted or dainty, you choose.

Anyway, back to the food, which was tasty enough and a far healthier prospect in the West End than the ubiquitous pizza or burger and fries combo. The heartier ingredients like those puy lentils and the quinoa held up well and eating a rainbow of colours is always a good thing. My friend was impressed with the ‘ribs’ made from a protein called seitan, which had a meaty texture and a spicy barbecue kick. He also tried some curried vegetarian scotch eggs, another innovative idea.

Seitan ribs in sticky BBQ sauce.

Seitan ribs in sticky BBQ sauce.

The dessert table featured a few cake pops, which might appeal to a younger crowd, a vegan carrot cake – and a fruit salad. I could easily see the range expanding to include some brownies, say, or cookies – even an oaty fruit crumble. We also tried an unusual sounding couscous pudding, asking for a side of Greek yoghurt – which went nicely with it.

Cakepops decorated the dessert table.

Cakepops decorated the dessert table.

Service, indeed all the staff, could not have been friendlier: and if you go for an early lunch or dinner, you’ll get the best out of the freshly laid out food. With a few tweaks, Ethos could be a fantastic addition to the fast casual dining scene in an area which badly needs it – deliciously different, fad free rather than fat free – and three cheers to that.

Felicity Spector (@FelicitySpector) is deputy programme editor, Channel 4 News and writes for a number of UK food blogs. Her plate is filled rather daintily, don’t you think?

2 / 5

@FelicitySpector Guest Reviews @EthosFoods

Ethos Foods

48 Eastcastle Street, Fitzrovia, London W1W 8DX
Phone: 020 3581 1538
Web: http://ethosfoods.com//

Reviewer: Felicity, October 15, 2014

Square Meal

Baglio di Pianetto: Escape, Indulge, Unwind

baglio_di_pianetto_palermo

Less than half an hour from Palermo, in a rocky valley filled with vineyards and the occasional outcrop of eucalyptus, lies Baglio di Pianetto, an 88 hectare estate of olive and grape groves and L’Agrirelais, a bright and elegant country house. We visited on an unseasonably warm and sunny late September day, the guest of Ginevra Notarbartolo di Villarosa, grandaughter of Count Paolo and Countess Florence Marzotto custodians of the Baglio di Pianetto estates.

After a week travelling in Sicily, we arrived weary from hours of driving and many early starts, yet from the moment we stepped into L’Agrirelais’s large sunny courtyard, we were enveloped in tranquilty. And as we were shown around the grounds we quickly realised how special this place is.

Wander the grounds enjoying typical views such as these.

Wander the grounds enjoying views typical of these.

We heard talk that the land is intrinsic to the product and the experience of Baglio di Pianetto, and walking the land there’s an intuitive sense that this is truth. Quickly we felt a sense of peace; a richness and a solidity which is in the air yet of the ground and as we entered the guest house, we had arrived. Arrived not to a showy five star hotel, rather to a welcoming and grand family home, which doesn’t compromise on comfort, but allows you to simply be.

A vase with a story and a warm, L'Agrirelais welcome.

A vase with a story and a warm, L’Agrirelais welcome.

Ginevra explains the story of the guest house with great passion. Damaged by the 1960 earthquake, an inter-generational family project to restore the building began in 2002. Despite it’s relatively recent rebuilding, the original facade which is proudly depicted on bottles from this winery has been faithfully recreated on the garden side of the building. Rooms are elegantly furnished, with interiors chosen to compliment artworks which are unique to each room. All have sweeping views, some with balconies overlooking the pool.

Stunning views and creature comforts.

Stunning views and creature comforts.

She goes on to explain the product and business: the minerality of the soil, the history of furnishings, the sustainability of the operation and the rising tide of quality Sicilian wine which Baglio di Pianetto has been part of. Yet she’s quick to correct me when I inquire as to whether the guest house business is of her design, “I continue a tradition”, she says. While I don’t doubt this is true, I find her enthusiasm remarkable. This is both of her, and of her family.

We’ve been invited to lunch and to try wines and we’re soon ushered to an elaborately set space overlooking the gardens.

By the time we saw this, we were rather excited.

By the time we saw this, we were rather excited.

The first wine we try is a 2013 Ficiligno, a blend of Insolia and Viognier, it’s well balanced, there’s a crispness yet a florality. Three levels of ripeness (pre, for acidic, technical ripness for then slightly-over ripe to add the sweetness of the Sicilian sun) are combined to produce this flavour. It’s worth the effort, this wine is delicate yet easy to drink, complimenting the apperitif and starter course which the chef created.

A brililant tempura selection, just one of a selection of street-food inspired starters.

A brilliant tempura selection, just one of a selection of street-food inspired starters.

As we progress into the heart of lunch a triumph of a pasta dish is served. It’s one of the best dishes I have eaten in Sicily. The broccoli is honoured in two ways: as a pureé and in slightly macerated form which retains some of the bite. Then the saltiness of the parmesan and pesto, a perfectly al dente fusilli, so good!

Fusilli with Brocolli. Total food porn.

Fusilli with Brocolli. Total food porn.

As a glass of Ramione 2011 Nero d’Avola Merlot was poured, we learned about the nomenclature of the wines. Each, after a member of the staff of the winery. This Ramione was just great. The Merlot bought a certain sophistication while the Nero bought a fuller body, combined, it was intense, earthy and dark.

For a moment, I wondered if this was how Sicilian reds gained their elegance, by combining with a grape from further north. As our main course arrived, this fleeting thought passed. The 2007 Cembali Reserve really blew my mind. It was complex, with blackberries, spices, even a subtle smokiness but it was also decided and intense, determined to make it’s mark.

It’s a tribute to Baglio di Pianetto’s traditional wine making methods. Fermented for 12 days at a constant temperature thanks to the winery being built into the hillside of this temperate micro climate, the wine is hand-picked, as you’d expect, but also processed through a gravity based system.

The Cembali 2007 reserve. The table devoured it. My mind was blow.

The Cembali 2007 reserve. The table devoured it. My mind was blow.

The Cembali was the perfect accompaniment to a fine Rossini fillet, which was the only food we ate that wasn’t local to the immediate region. While local meats tend to be eaten quickly, this fillet had been aged and matured. It was delicate and light, letting the wine come in after a meaty mouthful, to zing and enliven.

A wonderful "meat exception". I had my arm twisted in the most gentle of ways.

A wonderful “meat exception”. I had my arm twisted in the most gentle of ways.

Although I’m not a regular meat eater I was happy to try this fillet. The wine, the beautiful surroundings and the sense of occasion warranted. That said, the chef catered well to the fully-vegetarian members at the table: everything aside from the fillet was locally sourced, with daily vegetable deliveries from a local provider, a local bakery produces sourdough and olive oil is grown and pressed onsite.

Dessert was similarly impressive, not least because there were two.

We were truly spoilt. I'd never tried Prickly Pear, so the chef rustled up this magnificent sorbet.

We were truly spoilt. I’d never tried Prickly Pear, so chef rustled up this magnificent sorbet.

A fluffy, creamy orange mouse, served on a biscuit base with candied orange.

Then, a fluffy, creamy orange mouse, served on a biscuit base with candied orange.

As the afternoon sank in and we finished our desert wine (a very good Moscato called Ra’is, which comes from Baglio di Pianetto’s other estate to the south of Sicily), tiredness overcame us. And we retired to the sun loungers by the quite extravagant and very refreshing 33m pool.

The 30m pool, perfect for lazing by, or for a few solid laps for those feeling more invigorated.

The 33m pool, perfect for lazing by, or for a few solid laps for those feeling more invigorated.

The ancients taught that life is constructed from five elements: earth, air, fire, water and ether. Reflections of these elemental archetypes are evident in an experience at Baglio di Pianetto. Of particular note, the richness and solidity of the earth and the spark, passion and intensity of fire. They erupt in the food, the wine, the building, and the people, all of whom have this wonderful terroir as a foundation. It’s an experience that words barely capture, and one which is not to be missed.

Baglio di Pianetto’s Pianetto estate and L’agrirelais guest house are under half an hours’ drive from Palermo, Sicily. Further information at www.bagliodipianetto.com. We were guests of Ginevra and her husband on the day.

Top 10 Eats from #Sicily

Mini Cassata, tasty little numbers.

One thing becomes obvious as soon as you arrive in Sicily, this island is big and diverse. We didn’t have time to visit the whole island, but where we went, we ate. Here’s our top 10.

10. Tomato and Mozzarella Crêpe

Let’s start with a wildcard. We were surprised when this simple café, just off the beaten track in Taormina produced a crêpe so thin and crispy it barely contained the tasty filling of local cheese and tomato. If you’re in Taormina, and you need a snack but want to escape the tourist hoards, then venture up to the simple, no fuss Cafe Solaris on Via Don Bosco.

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9. Rigatoni Alla Norma

It might look ordinary, but this rich, thick, sweet and perfectly balanced tomato sauce with Aubergine was really something. The only downside, it was often the only veggie option. We had three, the best at Ferro Di Cavallo in downown Palermo. Read full review of Ferro Di Cavallo

Far from ordinary: Rigatoni Alla Norma.

Far from ordinary: Rigatoni Alla Norma.

8. Mini Cassata from Bakery Rosciglione

Cassata cake is available all over the island. It’s a Sicilian favourite of sponge cake, ricotta cream and mazipan icing (that’s martorana in Sicilian). They look great, and taste kind of sublime. These one’s were purchased from Bakery Rosciglione in Palermo, via Gian Luca Barbieri 5.

Mini Cassata, tasty little numbers.

Mini Cassata, tasty little numbers.

7. Mushroom Carpacio

If funghi is in season, then you gotta try this deceptively simple looking dish. Sliced mushroom dressed with lemon juice and pepper, served with rocket and salty cheese. Fork all of these ingredients into a mouthful and you’ll be in heaven, I promise. We saw this one at Casale Drinzi, provinciale 9, Collesano.

Fungi_carpaccio_collesano_palermo_sicily

6. Orange Mousse

Light, citrusy and fluffy, with a crispy base and topped with deliciously tart candied orange peel, this dessert was the triumphant finalé of a dinner at Baglio di Pianetto. Read full review. Via Francia – Contrada Pianetto, Santa Cristina Gela. www.bagliodipianetto.com

Orange Mousse at Baglio Di Pianetto

Orange Mousse at Baglio Di Pianetto

5. Maria Grammatico’s Ricotta Cheesecake

This is the lightest, fluffiest cheesecake I’ve ever had. And I’ve had cheesecake. It bounces into your mouth, and the pastry, short yet sweet. Visit for the cheesecake, but also enjoy the hilltop town of Erice (which feels more Umbrian than Sicilian) while taking in the hopeful story of Maria. Via Vittorio Emanuele 14, Erice. Mariagrammatico.it

Maria Grammatico's ricotta cheesecake. Try it you must.

Maria Grammatico’s ricotta cheesecake. Try it you must.

4. Arancine (Meat warning!)

I was no stranger to Arancine (that’s the correct spelling in Sicilian) before arriving in Sicily, but I’d never had anything as delicious as this. During our streatfood Palermo tour (review coming soon), Marco led us to a stall on Il Capo, one of the less visited of Palermo’s markets. The Arancine is to die for. The veal (sorry veggies) filling is insanely tasty, but it’s the rice which grabbed me. It’s not as compressed as I’ve had before, so the crumb layer on the outside is more spacious, allowing more frying, more crispiness, more deliciousness. 5 star.

Arancine, complete with air holes for extra crispness.

Arancine, complete with air holes for extra crispness.

3. Sfincione

Staying on the Streetfood theme, this Sfincione is a street baked slab of pizza, topped with tomato and oregano (plus sausage if you’re that way inclined). But this pizza dough is no ordinary dough. It’s from a one of a kind bakery in Palermo and you can tell. The dough is so light and fluffy, yet tasty from the wood fired cart. I’ve never had anything quite like it.

Sfincione: exquisite streetfood pizza.

Sfincione: exquisite streetfood pizza.

2. Basil Pesto Linguine

I know what you’re thinking, how can basil pesto make a top 10? Well think about the freshest, perfectly cooked spaghetti, with a basil so rich and full of goodness it tastes like it’s grown in the light of 1,000 suns. We found this gem at Ristorantino da Spanò, Via degli Scalini, 7. www.ristorantinospano.com.

This is no ordinary Basil Pesto.

This is no ordinary Basil Pesto.

1. Fusilli pasta with Brocolli

I’ve had brocolli and pasta hundreds of times for dinner. But never, ever like this. This is a thing of precision, perfectly balanced textures (broccoli puree as well as pieces), wonderfully salty (the Parmesan see’s to that) and dressed with Baglio di Pianetto’s home grown olive oil to bring in the flavour of the land.

This dish truly sang and no other could have been our Sicilia no. 1 (for this trip, anyway).

Via Francia – Contrada Pianetto, Santa Cristina Gela. www.bagliodipianetto.com

Fusilli with Brocolli. OMGF, foodporn!

Fusilli with Brocolli. OMGF, foodporn!

Dessert is the new main course @thepuddingbar (Guest post by @FelicitySpector)

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Now I’m one of those people who asks for the dessert menu before ordering dinner…always best to be prepared, I’ve found. So what better than a place serving entirely dessert – now, we’re told, a fast growing London trend. Enter the Pudding Bar, the brainchild of Oliver Whitford-Knight, Emily Dickinson and Pete Cawston: open for a limited time only in the heart of Soho, bang opposite the theatre district and perfect for those seeking a post-drama sugar hit.

We were booked in on a busy Thursday night: the faces of envious passers-by peering through the windows at the indulgence within. At the tail end of summer, all the desserts on offer were chilled: probably the only way that chef Laura Hallwood can juggle the rush on orders at busy times, but more hot puddings are promised as the nights draw in, which will provide some variety to the menu.

We chose three between the two of us, strictly in the name of research – one of the Pudding Bar’s most popular dishes – a chocolate S’mores cheesecake, a special of the day – madeleines with poached peaches and a white chocolate mousse – and a new dessert, banoffee mousse with crushed shortbread, white chocolate icecream, and caramelised bananas.

The banana confection was fabulous, incredibly rich, the mousse sandwiched with thick discs of crunchy shortbread, the whole thing brought together by a slick of caramel and those sticky, melty bananas. The icecream was probably redundant, but we managed it anyway.

Caramalised banana banoffee mousse - £8.

Caramalised banana banoffee mousse – £8.

The madeleines – also a generous portion, were light and moist, and the peaches provided a welcome note of freshness among all that cream. Petty as a picture, too.

The madeline's were as pretty as a picture.

The madeline’s were as pretty as a picture.

I admit to being a die hard baked cheesecake fan, but as set cheesecakes go this was a pretty good one, more of a rich cremeux with a home made ginger nut base, and a dollop of lightly toasted marshmallow crowning the lot. I think there may have been more ice cream, but by this stage we were riding on a sort of sugar and dairy induced haze, which carried us out of the restaurant and all the way onto the 19 bus home.

S'more cheesecake, peanut butter icecream - £8

S’more cheesecake, peanut butter icecream – £8

These are not delicate little morsels of sweet nothings – you need an appetite to finish one, let alone the ‘sharing platter’ of everything on the menu – £28 between two.

If this really is a hot new foodie trend, I’m glad to say I’m well ahead of the curve.

Felicity Spector (@FelicitySpector) is deputy programme editor, Channel 4 News and writes for a number of UK food blogs. Her iPad, brim full of food photos, been known to appear in background shots of many a food bloggers photos.

3.5 / 5

Dessert is the new main course @thepuddingbar (post by @FelicitySpector

Pudding Bar

48 Eastcastle Street, , Soho, London W1W 8DX
Phone: 020 3581 1538
Web: http://www.puddingbar.co.uk/

Reviewer: Felicity, October 15, 2014

Pudding Bar on Urbanspoon

Ferro di Cavallo: Authentic #Sicilian Small Plates in the heart of #Palermo

2014-09-20 22.08.31

It’s not often I consider queuing. Perhaps it was the heaving street side atmosphere that invited passers by to stare. Perhaps, the young, dedicated Palermo family who run this popular downtown cucina. Perhaps, the two litre plastic bottles of home-made wine being decanted into carafe’s that instantly were covered in condensation from the humid Sicilian air. Perhaps, it was catching a glimpse of delicious looking small plates whizzing past, or the grandma sized portions of the freshest pasta you can image being served up to tables of ten or more local lads. Hmm, perhaps it was that.

It’s not often I consider queuing, and tonight I’m glad I did.

Awesome vibe, eclectic interior at Ferro di Cavallo.

Awesome vibe, eclectic interior at Ferro di Cavallo.

We didn’t have to wait long and ended up sitting inside a bustling red painted interior, walls crammed with everything from religious iconography through to family portraits. As soon as we were sat a large sheet of brown paper, with the menu printed was thrown in our direction. We sorted that out, and began to devour the menu. Four main sections, all dishes within a section equally priced; antipasti (€4) , primi piatti (pasta, €5), fish (€8) and meat (€7)  courses. Plus some sides (€2) and desserts.

Cavallo offered heaps of choice, and everything looked and sounded extremely authentic. The style of menu you’ve probably seen if you’ve been to any of the Sicilian styled Italian small plates places in London, in fact I’d not be surprised if this place might have inspired at least one of them.

We ordered everything veg, plus, and this is probably my only gripe, I felt I had to order a squid dish. There wasn’t a lot of choice beyond the starters for the pure veggies. This being our first proper night out in Sicily, I’m hoping this wont be a trend.

Almost omelet like, these are Panelle, fried Chick Pea flour fritters. €4.

Almost omelet like, these are Panelle, fried Chick Pea flour fritters. €4.

The Panelle is simple, but tasty. A base for adding more flavour, we thought.

This Caponata (an Aubergine and tomato stew) was quite simply stunning. €4.

This Caponata (an Aubergine and tomato stew) was quite simply stunning. €4.

And the Caponata was a prime candidate for dipping. Beautifully seasoned, with a zingy, singy, balanced tomato sauce. Big chunks of celery, added something striking.

At risk of Aubergine overload, Pasta Norma, a simple Penne again with a perfectly balanced sauce.

Pasta Norma, an aubergine, tomato sauce on Penne with Parmigiana

Pasta Norma, an aubergine, tomato sauce on Penne with Parmigiana

We’d heard about the desert, so we saved some room. I suggest you do the same, this Cannolo is EPIC! The Ricotta cream delicate and yet rich. The crispy biscuit shell cracks into shards of sweet ecstasy.

Apparently one of the best in Palermo; Cannole, just €1.50

Apparently one of the best in Palermo; Cannole, just €1.50

Ferro di Cavallo does that magical, authentic, casual effortlessness that touches you much more deeply than well crafted food alone can do. There’s something extra. We were caught up in the buzz, so much so that the three times a fuse blew and the lights went out, nobody batted an eye.

Go there when you’re in Palermo, it’s well worth the queue.

4 / 5

Ferro di Cavallo: Authentic #Sicilian Small Plates in the heart of #Palermo

Ferro di Cavallo

Via Venezia, 20, Castellammare, Palermo 90133
Phone: 091 331835
Web: http://www.ferrodicavallopalermo.it/

Reviewer: Jared, September 21, 2014

Visit @HeirloomN8, it’s so very now

Mop worthy. Butter poached leeks, coddled duck egg & roasted walnut - £7

Words by Felicity Spector. Pictures by Jared (@foodstinct)

It all sounded so very now: a north London restaurant which grows vegetables on its own Buckinghamshire farm. Even the name – Heirloom – conjured up visions of specially nurtured tomatoes and purple carrots with clods of dirt still clinging on.

I’d seen the daily changing menu, though, with the promise of home made treacle loaf with greengage compote shining like a beacon at the end. I couldn’t wait to book a table.

The first thing which strikes you is the calmness of this grown-up space: tables not too wedged together, a noise level which allows for proper conversation. Bookshelves, along the wall overlooking the bar – bearing a single volume: the NOMA cookbook.

A grown up space, not crammed at all.

A grown up space, not crammed at all.

My friends had already arrived by the time I got there, following a scenic bus journey taking in not one, but two prisons. Always a treat. They’d started without me – apparently the Winterdale cheese fritters were excellent. I had to believe them.

The winterfale fritters were lovely (apparently). 4.5

The winterdale fritters were lovely (apparently) – £4.5

Some excellent sourdough bread and salted butter arrived, and we decided to order every vegetarian dish on the menu to share – on the night we went, there were seven. Courgette fritters were fine, perked up by a good slug of herb pesto, and a dish of pineapple and zebra tomatoes were sweet and juicy, scattered with some slightly medicinal hyssop.

Provence pineapple & zebra tomatoes & hyssop. 7.50

Provence pineapple & zebra tomatoes & hyssop – £7.5

Best of all was a plate of buttery roasted leeks with a puddle of coddled egg and some roasted walnuts: a gently warming, comforting dish which we mopped up with the rest of the bread.

Mop worthy. Butter poached leeks, coddled duck egg & roasted walnut – £7

Next – a couple of larger plates – a bowl of vibrantly green barley stew with parsley root and peas: a not-quite risotto which was thick and hearty and felt as good for you as it looked.

Barley & parsley root stew, fresh peas & parsley butter - £10

Barley & parsley root stew, fresh peas & parsley butter – £10

With it, another dish of roasted celeriac and trompette de la mort mushrooms, fat ceps and some dollops of goats curd – a triumph of a vegetarian dish. A side dish of champ didn’t last long either: lots of butter, soft potato, plenty of greens.

Bouchon ceps, Cerney goast & salt baked celeriac - £10

A triumph: Bouchon ceps, Cerney goast & salt baked celeriac – £10

And then – the prospect of that treacle loaf. It didn’t photograph well – but what a match with that sticky greengage compote, incredibly moist and not too sweet: there was clotted cream too – like a cream tea on steroids.

Treacle loaf, poached greengage plums - £6.5

Treacle loaf, poached greengage plums – £6.5

Another dessert, saffron poached pears with crumbled shortbread and more of that cream was more delicate, but with no compromise on flavour.

Saffron poached pears, Jersey Chantilly cream & shortbread crumble £6.5

Saffron poached pears, Jersey Chantilly cream & shortbread crumble £6.5

There are biodynamic wines on offer and a selection of cocktails – the kitchen even rustled up an off-menu whisky sour.

the kitchen even rustled up an off-menu whisky sour

Nothing felt rushed: service was friendly, and there’s a cool but relaxed neighbourhood feel. The sort of place you’d be lucky to have at the end of your street – and a place worth a scenic bus journey across town, for the cooking, and the care and respect that Heirloom clearly has for its home-grown ingredients. Just save room for that treacle loaf too. I can promise, you won’t be disappointed.

Felicity Spector (@FelicitySpector) is deputy programme editor, Channel 4 News and writes for numerous UK food blogs. She’s known an uncanny ability to document cultural happenings seen from the 91 bus.

4 / 5

Visit @HeirloomN8, it’s so very now

Heirloom N8

35 Park Road, Crouch End, London N8 8TE
Phone: 020 8348 3565
Web: www.heirloomn8.co.uk/

Reviewer: Felicity, August 22, 2014

Heirloom on Urbanspoon

The best #beach near #Florence

Take a break from Florence, take a trip to the beach.

If you tire of the gelato, art and fashion of the land-locked Tuscan capital of Florence, then escape is at hand. We’ve found a place you can lie on a beach, gaze into the sea, have a spot of lunch, and best of all, do it all within an easy day trip of Florence.

Due west of Florence is the somewhat industrial port city of Liverno, travel further south and you’ll find a stretch of rocky coast, sandwiched between national parks and the Mediterranean, speckled with seaside towns and beaches.

Getting to the beach from Florence

The Italian train system, while notoriously ritardo (that’s Italian for late running), is certainly well thought out for recreational travellers. Three “beach trains” (as we named them) leave Florence St Santa Maria Novella station each weekend morning, direct for this stretch of coast. The journey is about 1h20, so bring a book, but as these trains travel direct, you’ll not have to fuss about with changing. Check Trenitalia for timetables.

Arriving at beautiful town of Castiglioncello

Arriving at beautiful town of Castiglioncello

Welcome to Castiglioncello

After the frenetic hype of Florence, we were expecting something similar when we disembarked the train. But no, while Castiglioncello is popular, it’s mostly so with locals and the small streets have an air of calm. Castiglioncello is situated on a small point, jutting into the Mediterranean and is covered in pine trees. There’s a row of shops and cafés in the centre of town on Via Renato Fucini, so you can pick up any essentials. But the town’s not so overdeveloped to detract from the real reason you’re here: escape.

The gardens at Castiglioncello

The gardens at Castiglioncello

Head to the beach

There are two beaches, the longer stretch on the northern side is filled with deck chairs which you can rent for between €10 and €30 per day. This beach is quite rocky, but well placed jetties mean you can easily clamber in to enjoy a refreshing dip, or even snorkelling amongst the shallow, rocky outcrops.

The larger beach on Castiglioncello is popular amongst locals.

The larger beach on Castiglioncello is popular amongst locals.

Time for lunch?

There are a number of restaurants in the main strip of the town, plus several overlooking the bay on the south side of town. We ate at Ristorante Il Porticciolo, which serves salads, and pasta, though is mainly focussed on fresh fish. We managed to rummage up a lovely bottle of a local white chianti, too.

Tomato and Mozzarella, lunch by the bay in Castiglioncello.

Tomato and Mozzarella, lunch by the bay in Castiglioncello.

As perhaps to be expected, our train home was delayed. But we were still back to Florence in time for dinner, refreshed, sun-kissed, and recharged.

I want to #vegify your favourite dish

So as well as free-styling, I like to #vegify. Taking a meaty dish and making it veg-friendly. Is there a meat dish, something that you love (or loved) but had to leave behind due to meaty ingredients?

If so, tell me! Leave a comments below. and tell me what dish you’d like vegified. I’ll pick one, give it a go and share the recipe.

Go on, tell me the meaty dish you want to vegify, in the comments below.

Win 2 Tickets to see VegFest in London

I’m running this in conjunction with VegFest UK, one of Europe’s biggest veggie events, which runs September 27 & 28 at London Olympia. If you’d like to win 2 Sunday tickets for VegFest, just retweet this tweet.

vegfest.co.uk

vegfest.co.uk