Felicity visits @birdrestaurant in #shoreditch and finds, serious #foodporn!

ASDF

Wait. A fried chicken restaurant, on a vegetarian blog? Bird in Shoreditch, as the name suggests, is primarily there to flog chunks of poultry to the Shoreditch masses. Paul Hemmings, its Canadian founder, gave up a career in investment banking to pursue his culinary dream. “Fried chicken had a real image problem”, he says, gulping down his first coffee of the day from the ‘bottomless’ jug. “It’s become so popular – but most consumption has been economically driven. Really low end.” Across the Atlantic, though, it had suddenly become a trend. Even three star Michelin chef Thomas Keller produced his own twist on the deep fried bird. “Here, no-one treated it with much respect”, says Paul – and with a promise of free-range, affordable food, Bird Shoreditch was born.

“We’re not a gimmick”, he insists, brushing aside that uber-hipster stereotype which surrounds every new food venture in these parts. Even if the menu is full of Instagram-ready dishes like a giant chicken and waffle sandwich, and the decor is urban-chic diner style, with booths and bright wooden chairs and chicken themed graphics on the walls.

the decor is urban-chic diner style, with booths and bright wooden chairs

Instagram ready: Did someone say #donuts?

Now, though, there is more than chicken at Bird – which has just launched a new breakfast menu full of all-American favourites. We were invited along to test it out.

For non meat eaters – there’s a skillet of eggs cooked together with jalapeno cornbread, or the option of a breakfast bun, minus the sausage patty: a demi brioche stuffed with egg, cheese, and a hash brown. I bypassed that one in favour of the stack of pancakes with maple syrup, while my friend, who hails from Alabama and is made of sterner stuff, went for the full on bacon waffle with extra fried chicken on the side. Plus a glazed doughnut bacon sandwich which has been attracting widespread publicity.
Prices are very affordable, with nothing over a fiver – and coffee refills come as often as you like.

Stack of fresh griddled pancakes and Canadian maple syrup - £5

Stack of fresh griddled pancakes and Canadian maple syrup – £5

Our food arrived. The stack of five pancakes was enormous: I’d have preferred them hotter,  but the maple syrup was thick and intensely sweet, and even though I couldn’t finish everything, they happily boxed up the rest to take home.
My friend made short work of her chicken bacon waffle extravaganza – although she was forced to admit defeat about a third of the way through the bacon doughnut. Unsurprisingly, perhaps: portions are certainly generous.

It’s early days yet for the Bird breakfast. We enjoyed the variety and the pricing – and service was swift and friendly. If the food could come to the table consistently hot – they’d be on to a real winner. Breakfast, any time. Like liberty and the pursuit of happiness – it really is the American way of life.

Felicity Spector (@FelicitySpector) writes for a number of UK food blogs and, oh, Channel 4 news where her interest topics are food and US Politics. She is a guest blogger (and in this instance photographer) at foodstinct.

3 / 5

Is @birdrestaurant in #shoreditch ready-made #foodporn?

Bird Restaurant

42-44 Kingsland Road London E2 8DA
Phone: 0207 613 5168
Web: http://birdrestaurants.com/

Reviewer: Felicity, January 31, 2015

Bird on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Cooking in the Secret Garden of #Galatina, #Puglia

Sunset__galatina__puglia__travel__nofilter___it_s_been_a_dry__mild_start_to_winter_here._This_evening_we_sipped_wine_on_a_roof_terrace_and_planned_our_week.

Cooking in Italy has a peculiar quality which I adore. It’s as if I’m possessed by the spirit of a long lost and greatly missed nonna, who spends hour upon hour in the kitchen, creating, tasting, serving and enjoying. In this magical place, food tastes richer and more satisfying. Cooking seems to have a more time honoured, ritualistic role in daily life. And the somewhat regimented timetabling of meals mean they are not just a passing moment to re-fuel, rather, they define the very structure of everyone’s day. When in Italy, I sense a deep respect for food and a delight in it’s enjoyment.

In late December I spent two weeks in a particularly joyful kitchen, in a villa in Galatina, a small town in the area of Salento, better known perhaps as the heel of Italy‘s boot and the southern most part of the region of Puglia. The ancient stone walled exterior of the aptly named Giardino Segreto disguises an enclosed garden, with lemon, lime, orange and pomegranate trees and beds of rosemary, sage, parsley and bay. The sunny roof terrace,  no doubt wonderful in summer, was still enjoyable in the relatively mild Puglian winter. Most of all, I was obsessed with the kitchen. Perhaps the best equipped holiday rental kitchen I’ve ever seen. I was in foodie heaven.

But living in this ancient town for a few weeks unlocked more treasures. The day after we arrived we went exploring, locating the necessities: a bakery, a supermarket and a local bar for coffee and pastries. By surprise we happened upon a string of men in trucks delivering fresh local veg to housewife occupied doorsteps throughout the town. We cornered one in an alleyway and were entertained and consumed as the local trader loaded us up with tomatoes, onions and fruits, and greens from the familiar (fennel, long stemmed brocolli) to the downright bizarre (more on that later). Laden with bags, and with a wallet that was only €10 lighter, we took our haul back to our villa.

We quite literally chased him down

We quite literally chased him down

I set about cooking. Not before a photo opportunity, of course.

The obligatory fresh veg spread.

The obligatory fresh veg spread.

The keen eyed amongst you might see we bought a load of bitter, over ripe orange tomatoes. Our grocer man had explained that these ought be cooked. Happy to oblige I set about roasting them in oil, salt and pepper, while I prepared the first of my many veg stocks for the trip. The tomatoes were to prove a valuable base for a tomato sauce which tasted quite unlike anything I’ve made from supermarket bought tomatoes. The bitterness was rounded out by the roasting, intensifying an intense fruitiness which underscored the other flavours in the sauce.

getting started in italian kitchen

Roasting tomatoes and caramelising onions.

At the same time I blackened some brown onions in a pan, then roast them alongside the tomatoes. I’ve got into the habit of preparing base flavour ingredients such as these, as well as a good veggie stock as soon as I arrive in a holiday kitchen. It speeds up later food preparation and gives “thrown together” meals a deeper flavour.

Everywhere you go there’s a new dish to try, often uniquely local and deeply connected to the land.

Collecting inspiration for dishes in Italy is easy. Everywhere you go there’s a new dish to try, often uniquely local and deeply connected to the land. Puglia is perhaps the finest example of this connection I’ve yet found in Italy. The food reflects the terrain. This sun-kissed, fertile region produce most of Italy’s olives and much of it’s pasta. Goats are ideally suited to the rocky farmlands hence many of the cheese are of goats milk. On cheese: Puglia’s pecorinos and ricottas are excellent and ubiquitous. As is the Burrata.

The Burrata in Puglia is second to none.

The Burrata in Puglia is second to none.

The dishes of the south are heavily influenced by the omnipresent sea. Seafood is pervasive, squid and prawns are on most menu’s. Often served simply crumbed and fried or in a risotto or pasta. But I was most impressed with the more earthy dishes, evidence of a practical and connected agricultural culture which  toiled the rocky fields. One which avoids waste: turnip greens or wild chicory stewed down to go with pasta. And one which makes use of dried and preserved ingredients like cheeses, olives and dried beans. A local classic is a fava bean pureé served with olive oil and steamed greens. Our local restaurant Anima e Cuore made a similar earthy dish from pumpkin pureé with the occasional salty black olive dolloped along the way.

love this part of the world

Pumpkin purée with steamed greens and black olives.

We found it somewhat difficult to find a lot of restaurants which catered to the vegetarians in our midst, but did discover a number of dishes which were tasty and meat free, and to my delight, which I could copy at home.

Panzerotti: Mint and Potato Croquettes

Panzerotti is a mint and potato fritter, rolled lengthways, covered in bread crumbs and fried. This dish is as Salento classic, served as antipasto or as a snack with drinks. I could imagine it came into being when potatoes needed to be used up, flavoured with local cheese and ubiquitous mint. We first tried them at our local restaurant…

2014-12-23 20.40.18

But I decided to make my own for New Years eve.

Ingredients

500g potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed (with a potato ricer, ideally)
50g plain flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
salt & pepper
good handful of mint, chopped finely
100g grated sharp cheese (we used pecorino, parmesan would do)
100g breadcrumbs
Olive oil for frying

Method

  1. Mix mash potato, flour, eggs, mint and cheese, use your hands if you like.
  2. Season to taste with salt & pepper.
  3. Roll into strips on a board dusted in a little extra flour. You can cut them into 10cm or 5cm lengths, depending on preference. Coat well with breadcrumbs.
  4. Heat a small saucepan half filled with olive oil until hot.
  5. Add your panzerotti, 2 or 3 at a time and fry until brown.
  6. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve hot.

Tips: Don’t be tempted to overdo the cheese as it can mean you’ve explosive pockets close to the surface which can pop while frying and ruin the finish. A potato ricer is a must if you want a good consistency of potato mash. Make sure the oil is hot enough before you add your panzerotti. Test with an off-cut.

I don't deep fry that often, but on holiday it seems right.

I don’t deep fry that often, but on holiday it seems right.

These Panzerotti made a great antipasto on New Years Eve.

These Panzerotti made a great antipasto on New Years Eve. I was too heavy handed with the cheese so some exploded.

Galatina Chicory

It’s not often that a foodie is blown away at the site of an ingredient. I’d never seen anything like this massive veg. At first I thought it was a more lettuce like chicory, but upon closer inspection the base contained what looked like a family of alien sea creatures. These pods are what the locals focus on, so I removed the leaves and began to separate them. The classic dish is a salad, where the pods are sliced finely and served with a creamy dressing and anchoivies. I didn’t have the ingredients for this, so decided to improvise.

Galatina Chicory: anti-clockwise from bottom left: the alien like base, removing the pods, sliced lengthways.

Galatina Chicory: anti-clockwise from bottom left: the alien like base, removing the pods, sliced lengthways.

After a little quiet contemplation and plenty of tasting, I decided to char grill the halved pods. Some I marinated in olive oil and garlic to serve as antipasto. Some I stirred through with lentils to make a pasta sauce.

Chargrilled Galatina Chicory and Lentil Pasta

Chargrilled Galatina Chicory and Lentil Pasta

Orecchiette

Another favourite dish for which Puglia is known is Orecchiette. An ear shaped pasta which many restaurants claims as home made, occasionally by the “hands of  maidens”. The texture is somewhat rough, as they’re rolled on breadboards with no flour. The shape of the pasta makes for a slightly denser bite while the convex shape ensures the accompanying sauce is well collected. Orecchiette comes with many sauces….

orecchiette alle cime di rapa - orecchiette with turnip greens

Orecchiette alle cime di rapa – orecchiette with turnip greens

Capturing the local tendency for practical food, turnip greens are used for a soupy, earthy sauce….

Oricchette with Spinach and Ricotta

Oricchette with Spinach and Ricotta

Or for a lighter taste, with Ricotta and spinach.

Oricchette with Wild Chicory, Chilli, Garlic

Oricchette with Wild Chicory, Chilli, Garlic

A classic, punchy dish calls for it to be served it with wild chicory and that’s been sautéed in chilli and garlic. Extra chilli and breadcrumbs for added texture.

Oricchette with Brocolli

As it was winter when we visited it felt like a soupy, warming sauce was the perfect accompaniment for our Oricchette. I had a large bunch of Brocolli from our grocer man and plenty of tasty veg stock. Although it took a few hours to fully simmer down, it was worth the wait.

Ingredients
2 medium sized white onions, finely diced
olive oil
1kg Longstem Brocolli, washed and chopped into 1cm pieces. Include any leaves.
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup white wine
salt and pepper
1 litre vegetable stock
500g Oricchette
Chopped fresh flat leaf parsley and parmesan to finish

Method

  1. Heat a large saucepan or skillet with lid to a medium temperature
  2. Add a good splash of olive oil and the onion and a pinch of salt and caramelise the onion by reducing to a low heat and covering. Let this step take up to 20 minutes, ensuring you’ve a translucent onion and very minimal browning.
  3. Mince the garlic putting through a press and stir through the onion. Increase the heat slightly and deglaze the pan with the wine.
  4. Add the chopped brocolli and stir through for a few minutes, then add the stock. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat, place a lid on the pan and simmer.
  6. After 20 minutes check the brocolli: if your lid is not well sealed you may need to add more stock.
  7. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the Oricchette, stirring occassionally.
  8. Boil for approx 12-15 minutes until al dente. Drain, but reserve the water in case you need to add to the brocolli.
  9. Bring the heat up on the brocolli, when bubbling rapidly add the Oricchette and stir through, adding some of the reserved salted water if necessary to return to a slightly soupy consistency.
  10. Serve, dress with parmesan and flat leaf parsley, plus a little extra virgin olive oil.
Orecchiette with Brocolli

Orecchiette with Brocolli

Pasticciotto from Bar Leonardo

You can’t visit any town in Solento without trying the famous local pastry. Pasticciotto is like a custard pie; the best we found was at Bar Leonardo on Via di Solento, just a few minutes walk from the old town. They are served so piping hot that it’s best to bring them home to eat, giving them some time to cool down. These Pasticciotto are just delicious, filled with egg custard and a perfectly short pastry.

Baked fresh every morning, these delicious Pasticciotto are pure contenment. Short crust pastry with delicious crema filling.

Baked fresh every morning, these delicious Pasticciotto are pure contentment. Short crust pastry with delicious crema filling.

In the months since our Galatina escape I’ve often thought back to the villa. The garden, the terrace and especially the kitchen. I feel blessed to have spent a delicious two weeks there and I can’t wait to return.

We stayed as the guest of Giardino Segreto. Available year round and sleeping up to 6 adults in a three bedroom, two bathroom villa. More information at http://www.homeaway.co.uk/.

Review: Neighbourhood greek @exodusbar

Light and crisp: Courgette and fetta balls, £5.90.
So the Blackstock Road isn’t quite an Aegean beach, but the glowing lights of the Exodus wine bar were a little beacon of warmth on a freezing January night. And warmth is what you’ll get here, the warmest of welcomes in this neighbourhood Greek restaurant, family run and family style.
As we settled around a table, plates of lightly toasted homemade bread were whisked over with bowls of garlicky yogurt and grated carrot – the bread was almost focaccia like, made with mastic, which lent it a moreish stickiness. A good beginning – as were the selection of starters we shared. Best of the lot – some very light and crisp courgette and cheese fritters (above), and octopus braised soft with a touch of vinegar and a swirl of carrot purée. We scooped up a plate of beetroot and yoghurt with some toasted pitta – while the meat eaters enjoyed some meatballs in tomato sauce.
Feta Saganaki with beetroot sauce, £5.90.

Feta Saganaki with beetroot sauce, £5.90.

The menu was pretty heavy on cheese, and perhaps the slab of feta fried in a polenta crumb was a cheese too far, but it was crisp and just melting enough.
A trio of dips, £4.90.

A trio of dips, £4.90.

Of a selection of dips, the standout was a taramasalata, properly made without artificial colouring.
The main courses were perhaps less consistent: a bowl of jumbo prawns had us mopping up every drop of rich tomato sauce – and yes, more feta. Chicken breast stuffed with cheese on Greek orzo style pasta worked well, and a slow cooked shoulder of lamb was declared a triumph. A pork dish with very al dente carrots was a touch dry, as was a chicken in red wine, but choose well, and you’ll be happy.
Chicken stuffed with cheese and herbs, £11.90.

Chicken stuffed with cheese and herbs, £11.90.

We finished with a silky pannacotta and two little scoops of lime and chocolate mousse – authentically Greek? We weren’t sure. But they were a sweet end to a lovely night with friends, happily sharing dishes round a big table, passing plates and breaking bread. The sort of local place you’d gladly pop into on a cold night, for an evening of warmth, food and plenty of Greek hospitality.
Felicity Spector (@FelicitySpector) writes for a number of UK food blogs and is deputy programme editor at channel four news. She is a guest blogger at foodstinct.

3 / 5

Review: Neighbourhood greek @exodusbar

Exodus Greek

177a Blackstock Road, London N5 2LT
Phone: 020 7503 5466
Web: http://www.exodusbar.co.uk/

Reviewer: Felicity, January 10, 2015

Majestic #Matera and a stay @PalazzoGattini

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We arrived in Matera on a chilly December night, entranced by Christmas light adorned streets that bustled with shoppers rushing between designer boutiques and cozy bars. It felt a far cry and from the ominous steel mill we’d encountered on the motorway passing nearby Trapani. But this is Italy, a land of contrasts. As we crossed from industrial zone to this celebrated historical town, we didn’t realise the extent of the sensory treat that Matera offered, yet right away we knew we were somewhere special.

Decorative lights at Christmas time give Matera’s town centre a truly magical feel.

Decorative lights at Christmas time give Matera’s town centre a truly magical feel.

In the arch of Italy’s boot, nestled in the mountains between Apulia and Basilicata lie the Sassi of Matera (translated as the  “Stones of Matera”). The ancient (some are 9000 years old) excavations are grouped into two Sassi, which are built into the side of a ravine formed by a river. All but abandoned after the second world war, their heritage potential was recognised in the late 1980’s and they were regenerated and achieved UNESCO status. This unique architecture grants Matera the status of one of the most popular destinations in this part of Italy. But coming in late December, as we did, meant although busy, the city had a much more local feel. And one, of a great winter celebration.

We stayed at Palazzo di Gattini, the restored mansion house of the Gattini family, the oldest noble family of Matera. When the family were ousted at the formation of the Italian republic, the hotel like the Sassi fell into disrepair. Skillfully regenerated, the hotel has just 20 rooms, each  decorated with unique artefacts and many having sweeping views over the chasmic Sassi.

It was a treat to awake after our first night to find that a generous smattering of snow had landed and that the roof terrace, used for  drinks parties in the summer had become a viewing platform for a winter wonderland.

Palazzo di Gattini’s terrace offers sweeping views over the Sassi.

Winter wonderland: Palazzo di Gattini’s terrace offers sweeping views over the Sassi.

A greater treat was the breakfast. A buffet served across three rooms: cheese and meats, fruit, yogurt and cereal, and  tempting cakes and pastries.

Cartellate: a typical breakfast biscuit, served in the Matera region but only at Christmas time. We doused with honey and ricotta, to find that traditionally, honey should suffice

Cartellate: a typical Materan breakfast biscuit but only at Christmas time. We doused with honey and ricotta (but were later told the ricotta was not a traditional accompaniment).

The hotel is home to Don Matteo ristorante, where a father and son team prepare traditional local dishes, from Purea di fave e palate, a fava and potato puree served with a poached egg and black truffle, or a asparagus fritter with smoked goats cheese. We caught Donato in the kitchen preparing a banquet, watching him effortless plate course after course was a dream.

Donato plates salmon with precision and more than a little theatre.

Donato plates salmon with precision and more than a little theatre.

The hugest vat of homemade Orecchiette, boiled quickly in salty water.

The hugest vat of homemade Orecchiette, boiled quickly in salty water.

And when you’re done exploring the historic cave houses in the Sassi, the towns beautiful cathedral and the picturesque views  you’ll have worked up an appetite. If you’re stepping out we recommend the delicious and Trattoria Lucana (Via Lucana, 48, www.trattorialucana.it) for home cooked pasta, antipasto and dessert. Oh and the dough balls. You must try the dough balls.

Antipasto platter to end all platters. From top fave bean pure, stuffed red peppers, crumbed artichokes and courgette cakes plus pan fried mushrooms.

Antipasto platter to end all platters. From top fave bean pure, stuffed red peppers, crumbed artichokes and courgette cakes plus pan fried mushrooms.

Or, if you prefer, recline in your hotels’ luxurious spa, complete with steam room and aromatherapy suite.

Unwinding in the hydrotherapy pool.

Unwinding in the hydrotherapy pool.

Matera is entirely unique, retaining a magical sense of history and the opulence and amenity of a modern tourist hotspot. We think it’s a hit all year round.

Disclaimer: we were guests of Palazzo di Gattini – visit http://www.palazzogattini.it/en/home/ for more information.

Palermo #StreetFood Tour with @streatpalermo

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From historical origins as a practical way to feed the working poor, Street food has enjoyed a renaissance of late. In markets and food truck lots from London to L.A., Portland to Philadelphia, the resurgence is truly global. But it seems no other city has as authentic a historical claim as the home of Street food than the northern Sicilian city of Palermo.

Street food vendors are dotted around Palermo’s bustling markets where grandma’s shop for fish and vegetables and in rowdy squares where young revelers gather late into the evening. Varied too is the food available, from pizza and Arancine to more meaty mouthfuls which tend emerge later in the day.

Streetfood has made it to every echelon of society. These snacks were served up at lunch at bagli di pianetto.

Street food has made it to every echelon of society. These snacks were served up at lunch at Bagli Di Pianetto.

Of course you can explore street food in Palermo on your own, but a local expert is great if you want to find hidden treasures, while keeping you from getting lost in Palermo’s maze like streets. Marco from Streat Palermo was our knowledgeable and multilingual guide, we met him on a sunny September morning, in Piazza Verdi. For about three hours (tours are slightly shorter in high summer due to the heat) we explored a range of bite sized treats.

Arancine; soft rice filled with tasty meat; crumbed and fried.

Arancine; there is much more to this soft centered, deep fried rice ball than meat’s (sic) the eye.

You’ve probably tried this filled rice, breaded and fried starter in your local Italian. Forget that. These Arancine are streets ahead. The richest, densest ragu filling surrounded with rice so sticky it’s creamy and holds together brilliantly. Surrounded in a crispy, bready outer. This Arancine has punch and crunch.

Arancine is a Sicilian institution, their name derives from the Italian word for orange (arancia) while arancina means “little orange”. The traditional recipe for Arancina includes saffron; hence the reference to orange. Sicilian recipes for Arancine don’t usually contain saffron, though in Palermo they are served as small balls. In eastern parts Arancine are traditionally conical. And this is the Arancine that most tourists are likely to come across: they are even the customary snack served at the base station of Mount Etna.

The distinctive, conical Arancine, with a side of fluffy clouds.

The distinctive, conical Arancine, with a side of deliberately in focus fluffy clouds.

Back to Palermo: Marco makes special provision for non-meat eaters. We were served up this truly delicious spinach Arancini. Nutty, crunch and with thick seams of spinach to make up for the lack of ragu.

Spinach Arancine

Spinach Arancine – just as tasty, if not more so. And not a meaty ragu in sight. And Allison Scola’s leg, no less.

Venturing through the markets and lanes, Marco made sure we were never hungry, even between the six designated street food stops there was always a snack. Like these incredible marinated olives.

These giant, rosemary marinated olives had apple like crunch.

These giant, rosemary marinated olives had apple like crunch.

The story of Panelle is one of particular historical interest and deserves some attention here. This chickpea flour based dish is believed to be Arabic in origin. A local myth, perhaps perpetuated by enthusiastic food bloggers, says that this dish helped residents of the city of Palermo survive a siege, as chick pea flour was blown from ships enforcing a naval blockade, which the residents collected and made in to Panelle.

Making panelle: chick pea fritters.

Making Panelle: chick pea fritters.

Prepared by mixing mashed potato and chick pea flower, then frying on a grill pan, Panelle were once drenched in vinegar to give peasants who couldn’t afford fish a similarly tasting, cheaper substitute. Nowadays Panelle are still eaten in vast quantities on Sicilian streets, but not as a fish replacement, rather as a breakfast snack.

Cake and eat it: Panelle on a small bun, complete with Arancine.

Cake and eat it: Panelle on a small bun, complete with Arancine.

My hands-down favourite dish on the street food tour was Sficione. A simple pizza served on a focaccia like dough, topped with a thin tomato topping and casciocavallo cheese. The bounce in the dough incredible, giving the pizza an airiness that was irresistible. The toppings just the icing on the cake.

Sfincione, in all their bouncy dough like glory.

Sfincione, in all their bouncy doughy glory.

To top off the tour we were ushered into a tiny Sicilian boozer, which we’re told is popular amongst local youth in the evenings. During the day, it’s a slightly older crowd. But the local sweet, sticky wines are served chilled and flow freely. It’s quite the experience.

Sangue (L) and Zibbibo (R), two thick, sweet, Sicilian wines.

Sangue (L) and Zibbibo (R), two thick, sweet, Sicilian wines.

If you’re partial to street food, then you can’t go past Palermo. If, you’re simply looking for a well informed and entertaining tour of Palermo from a passionate Sicilian, then this tour provides a unique snapshot. Either way, I’m sure you’ll be as impressed (and sated) by Marco’s tour as we were.

Streat Palermo runs tours all year around. Info at http://www.streatpalermo.it/en or via email info.streatpalermo@gmail.com.

Top 5 #Christmas Treats in #London

The Sale Caremal Chocolate Tart at Said in Broadwick Street

London is pumping, Oxford Street’s amass with shoppers and dare I say it, it’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas. Here’s a visual guide to some of the most happening veg friendly treats since at this time of year: you deserve it.

5. Said Chocolate’s Salt Caramel Chocolate Tart

Fend off the shopping induced hunger pangs with the ultimate tart: this salt caramel is super rich, the chocolate decadent and the base crispy (Pictured above). Long-established Roman chocolate store Said arrived in London last year, and they sure know good tart (and espresso!), plus it’s great location and ample table space makes it a great place to rest those weary shoppers legs. Open daily, 41 Broadwick St, London W1F 9QL.

4. Galaktoboureko at Mazi Notting Hill

Greek is great for veggies. And with an impressive selection of jar’d starters and meat-free mains, Mazi Notting Hill does an incredible take on this ancient cuisine, combining Mediterranean ingredients, Greek tradition and a distinctly London finish. If nothing else, go for the desserts. The custard pie (Galaktoboureko) is my dessert of the month. 14 Hillgate St, London W8 7SR. More info. Mazi on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

This custard pie should be illegal.

This custard pie should be illegal.

3. Hot Chocolate and Cider at Southbank Winterfest Market

There’s been a proliferation of markets in the capital, especially this time of year. Southbank Winterfest market (part of the #SCWinterFest) is a great location to end a work day or kick off a late night. With a mostly 29-something crowd, there’s plenty to drink (and eat), including Jaz and Jul’s artisan hot chocolate, one of the tastiest I’ve had in years. Plus, choose almond milk and it’s vegan. Every day till 9 or 10, until January 4. More info.

Jaz and Jul's artisan hot chocolate - mine was with Almond milk and a splash of Amaretto. After all, it is Christmas!

Jaz and Jul’s artisan hot chocolate – mine was with Almond milk and a splash of Amaretto. After all, it is Christmas!

Not far from Jaz and Jul’s you’ll find the Rekorderlig Cider lounge, a decidedly festive popup warmed by outdoor open fires and cozy skandi style cushions. Try the delicious cocktails, including the Winter Mojito, it’s delicious and destined to become the drink of the winter.

A Winter Mojito: apparently the drink of the winter.

A Winter Mojito: apparently the drink of the winter.

2. Breakfast at Mission E2

Mission E2 is the latest offering from the Michael and Charlotte Sager-Wilde, a wine bar styled on one of their favourite haunts in San Francisco. Aside from an incredible interior and magnificent coffee, they also serve breakfast. Pop in for one of these numbers:

Mission E2's breakfast: scrambled eggs and mushrooms on E5 Bakehouse Sourdough

Mission E2’s breakfast: scrambled eggs and mushrooms on E5 Bakehouse Sourdough

Anise and clove poached pears on Hackney Wild Sourdough with Ricotta and Granola

Anise and clove poached pears on Hackney Wild Sourdough with Ricotta and Granola

We might have tried one of their Bloody Mary’s or two, just for a taste of their later in the day service. It didn’t disappoint. MissionE2: 250 Paradise Row, E2 9LE More info.

Mission Wine Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon

1. The Honest Burgers Cauli Fritter

Veggies rejoice! No longer need you feel like a second class citizen when you’re out for burgers. The honest burger’s cauliflower fritter has all the hallmarks of great bun filling burger: crispy outer, succulent inner, and perfectly seasoned. The fritter is complemented by a cooling mint and yogurt dressing and served on a wonderful brioche. I’ve found my new favourite veg burger. Honest Burgers has eight locations around London More info.

My favourite veggie burger today. The honest burger Cauliflower fritter.

My favourite veggie burger today. The honest burger Cauliflower fritter.

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

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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.