It’s the Northern Hemisphere winter and we’re fast approaching the year’s shortest day. It’s more often gloomy than bright, the sun sets early and leaves fill the gutters. Setting foot outside a warm home or office becomes a chore, coats and scarves weigh heavy on tired bodies, so when we finally do have some respite at home, simple, soothing food is definitely on the menu.
Carolyn Caldicott and photographer husband, Chris, have produced a timely antidote to chills and sniffles, in the form of a little book of winter-warming recipes called Comfort. Starting with Breakfasts to Get Up For, Carolyn teaches us how to perfect the classics like a boiled egg and soldiers, porridge and eggy bread and sensibly suggests a trio of eggs, potato rösti with a stiff Bloody Mary to blitz that Silly Season hangover. Hearty Meals for Friends and Family includes favourites such as pie and mash, shepherd’s pie and spicy warmer-uppers like spaghetti puttanesca or chicken and mango coconut curry. Every page of this cookbook oozes relief from inclement climes. Chris Caldicott’s photography takes us into farmhouses where fires crackle as they fuel ancient black stoves, enamelware trumps fancy serving dishes, and there, in the midst of all the recipes, a rainbow arcs across a steel-grey sky – a double-paged message of beauty and potential that exists in spite of all the rain and sleet and snow; a reminder that things won’t stay grey forever.
Carolyn offers up edible tonics for seasonal maladies, along with easy snacks, hot toddies and classic English puddings – each and every page designed to coddle the reader into rosy-cheeked contentedness.
I’ve always been seduced by any sort of baked cheese, so as my recipe test I chose Whole Camembert Baked with Garlic and Rosemary. So quick, so wicked, so ideal for sharing with some chunks of oven-warmed sourdough bread and a bowlful of crudités. Here’s the recipe for all you fromage fans out there:
1 whole room temperature Camembert (250g/ 9oz size in a wooden box)
1 plump clove of garlic, sliced,
1 sprig of rosemary
Warm baguette or ciabatta
Mixed crudités – carrot, celery, raw mushrooms, fennel, apple…
Slices of your favourite saucisson and ham
Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5
Tip the Camembert out of its wooden box, remove the wrapping and carefully squeeze the cheese back into the box. Using a small knife make a few slits in the top of the cheese and insert the garlic slices and rosemary leaves.
Place the Camembert on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or so, until the garlic is golden, the cheese has a slightly swollen appearance and feels soft and molten to the touch.
When I reached into the fridge today I saw immediately that a hungry mouse had nibbled at my perfectly-ripe Camembert de Normandie au lait cru from the dairy at St-Hilaire de Briouze (in London you can buy this at the Hamish Johnston fromagerie on Northcote Road, SW11), but there was still plenty left for me to play with. In the store cupboard I had a couple of bulbs of black garlic from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight, so I substituted that for regular garlic. Black garlic has the consistency of treacle once the clove is exposed, so if you use this, poke holes into the Camembert with the end of a chopstick or similar, and use it again to push the gooey garlic into the cheese.
I absolutely hate cleaning the oven, so I try to protect its innards as much as possible and therefore set the wooden Camembert box on a small enamel dish before placing it in the oven. Thank goodness I did – the cheese was flowing out of the box like lava after 15 minutes in the heat.
This recipe couldn’t be easier to follow. I served the molten cheese with sourdough bread, heirloom radishes and batons of cucumber, whilst watching Kind Hearts and Coronets – a film to warm the cockles, as we say in London Town.
One final suggestion in the lead-up to Christmas: if you know someone who’d benefit from a bit of TLC, why not package this up with a copy of a heart-warming DVD or book and a pair of super-long socks with padded soles?
To order Comfort at the discounted price of £7.99 including p&p if within the UK (or +£2.50 for orders from outside of the UK) please call +44 1903 828 503 or email email@example.com and quote the offer code APG258.
Comfort – Recipes to warm the heart and feed the soul, by Carolyn Caldicott, photographs by Chris Caldicott
Published by Frances Lincoln
I received a copy of this book for review and all the opinions expressed in this post are my own.
Niall Harbison struts his stuff
Niall Harbison is an Irish entrepreneur with the sort of history that someone will probably find to be good film fodder. In spite of being self-admittedly difficult to teach he worked as a chef for a Michelin-starred restaurant before touring the world as private chef to the super-rich, the likes of whom chopper in to Cannes to spend a few days chilling out on their ginormous gin palaces. Harbison went on to develop a media consultancy, Simply Zesty, which he later sold for several million Euros before setting up a simple blog called Lovin’ Dublin to promote all that’s good about the Dublin food scene. It’s now massive, boasts permanent staff and is able to sponsor awards for some of the best eateries in town. They’ve even set up an annual award for a food start-up. As if Harbo, as he’s known online, isn’t busy enough with all of the above, he’s also found the time to pen a bestseller about his success called Get Sh*t Done, not to mention creating an online image store for journalists, called Picstash. If you Google him, you’ll start to realise that what I’ve described of his life and achievements here is merely the abridged version.
Last week Harbison took Lovin’ Dublin to the people, 1200 of them or thereabouts, at the swish new Bord Gáis Energy Theatre by Dublin’s Grand Canal – a regenerated area of the city now populated by tech companies like You Tube and Google.
And so, at Lovin’ Dublin’s kind invitation, I found myself jetting across the Irish Sea to join a group of bloggers and writers from the UK at the event. Not only would we enjoy an evening of inspirational speaking at the Bord Gáis, but we’d also be introduced to some of the site’s favourite food spots.
I’ll post about the travel and food aspects of our trip later, but first to the event.
When we arrived at the theatre, the lobby was heaving with ticket-holders buying drinks and queuing up for tasty tidbits offered by the Lovin’ Dublin sponsors, alongside competitors hoping to walk away with one of the eatery awards. Heinz Ireland was a sponsor – and made sure we knew they were there by installing a huge tomato sauce bottle smack-bang next to the entrance. Apparently it took quite a lot of man-power to squeeze it through the door, which is ironic ‘cos it was a model of one of those upside-down squeezy bottles, just a heck of a lot bigger. Ah, the unexpected things that make me smile.
Upstairs a few of us made our way into the VIP bar area – blessedly under-populated, compared with the thronging ground floor we’d just left behind. There we sipped on ice-cold Jameson’s cocktails, made with ginger ale, before taking our seats in the Circle.
An Irish comedian called Al Porter compered much of the evening in his signature camp style, with a good amount of blue humour thrown in to hold our attention. Once he’d warmed us up we got underway with the inspirational speakers. They were:
- Paddy Cosgrave, mastermind behind the Dublin Web Summit and now Web Summit – Europe’s largest technology conference;
- Mark Little, Founder and CEO of Storyful, telling the tale of his move from broadcaster and news anchor to founder of the Storyful site, a social media news agency, where news can be contributed by anyone;
- Caroline Keeling, CEO of Keeling’s Fruit, who recounted her family’s success story and how they’re now selling tech they developed for their fruit business to Chinese firms;
- Jamie Heaslip, Irish rugby player, Entrepreneur and Angel Investor, giving a delightful account on where he goes in Dublin on his days off the field;
- Niall Breslin, known affectionately as ‘Bressie’, Musician and Campaigner, who spoke movingly about his battle with depression – an incredibly brave individual;
- Marco Pierre White, the chef and restaurateur, who gave a disarmingly frank synopsis of his life in food, starting with a knock at a Harrogate restaurant’s back door at the age of fifteen, asking to see the chef about a job. He hasn’t looked back and claims that out of all the cities he’s visited world-over, Dublin has shown him the most kindness;
- Niall Harbison, naturally, both explaining the story of Lovin’ Dublin and helping to interview the guests;
- but above all, I take my hat off to Mark Pollock, the blind paraplegic who is working on a cure for paralysis. This man is the embodiment of courage. Once upon a time Pollock had both sight and the use of his legs, but a double dose of misfortune has taken both from him. Does he complain? No. He’s determined that we will soon see a cure for paralysis, developed by medics and chemists and tech experts and creatives working together. As he puts it, recently he was able to walk every day for a month, with the aid of a technological brace and certain drugs. But because this so-called experiment hasn’t been observed by the right people, the breakthrough is not yet acknowledged. With Pollock’s brand of will-power and a team coming together at Trinity College to work with him on this project, I am absolutely certain he will succeed. His story has recently been released in documentary form in Ireland, aptly entitled Unbreakable. The film is next off to tour festivals like Sundance and hopefully it’ll be on general release before too long.
Marco Pierre White sharing with Harbo
MPW Mark Pollock now and back when he was a medal-winning rower
At the end of the evening, the winners of the various Dublin eatery categories were announced and the best start-up prize, totalling €25,000.00, was awarded to Nobo, a non-dairy ice cream with avocado base. (The Mystic Meg in me sees Hollywood celebs in Nobo’s future.)
So there ended the inaugural Lovin’ Dublin Live event. It’s set to be an annual fixture. I just wonder who’ll pop up on the 2015 programme?
As for our group, the day in Dublin was not yet over. We were piled into a green double-decker party bus and driven to the after-party at trendy Sam’s Bar, for yet more Jameson’s and ginger ale.
I was invited to Dublin by Lovin’ Dublin, with help from www.visitdublin.com
and the Lovin’ Dublin Live sponsors: obrienswine.ie, Heinz Ireland and SuperValu supermarkets.
I’ve been up to my elbows in duck of late, writing recipes for Gressingham Duck, the big name in store-bought duck in the UK. Apart from breasts and legs, I’ve even barbecued a whole duck, with a little help from Monsieur who is the outdoor chef for our household while I mostly cook within four walls.
Here’s the recipe I wrote for Gressingham’s blog for homemade preserved duck, otherwise known as Confit de Canard. You can check out my recipes and get plenty of inspiration for cooking duck here.
Duck legs preserved in their own (and a little extra) fat
Legs on a bed of Charlotte potatoes and crumbled chèvre, ready to cook
Another set of confit Gressingham legs served with polenta chips, sautéed mushrooms and a red wine and cassis reduction
For this recipe you will need either a large preserving jar or (as I have used) a firm plastic food storage box with strong seal, large enough to take the two duck legs and a lot of duck fat.
Please do note that the initial part of the preserving process takes 12-24 hours so don’t attempt this if you’re in a rush.
1 pack of Gressingham duck legs (a pair)
2 jars of Gressingham duck fat (2 x 250g containers)
2 Tbsp Sea salt
10 crushed black peppercorns
2 tspn minced garlic
2-3 bay leaves, roughly torn into small pieces
¼ tspn allspice
1 tspn dried thyme
2-3 bay leaves, whole
How to, Day 1:
- Wash the duck in cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper
- Put the duck legs into your sealable container
- Mix together the sea salt, peppercorns, garlic, torn bay leaves, allspice and dried thyme
- Rub the mixture all over the legs and seal the container
- Place the container in the fridge for 12-24 hours (the longer the better for the meat to absorb the seasoning flavours)
How to, Day 2:
- Remove the duck legs from the fridge and rinse well under cold water
- Once again, pat dry with kitchen paper
- Place in a frying pan with no added fat and heat for around 10 minutes, skin side down, until the duck produces its own fat and the skin is lightly golden.
- Then put the duck and its fat into a casserole dish and add the jars of duck fat
- Slowly heat at 150 degrees Celsius for 2.5 hours
- Remove the dish from the oven and allow to cool
- Once cooled, place the duck legs into the sealable container and pour in the fat, making sure it covers all the meat
- Place the whole bay leaves on top of the fat
- Seal the container and place in the fridge *the preserved legs may be stored for at least 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator, if not disturbed or the seal broken.
How to reheat:
Remove the duck legs from the fat, taking care to remove any excess fat. Heat (without added fat) skin-side down in a frying pan, until the skin turns golden, a little longer if you like it crispy, but do keep an eye on the legs so they don’t stick to the pan. The occasional swilling of the fat around the pan should prevent this. Then turn the legs to allow the underside to heat. This should only take 10-12 minutes in total.
Don’t waste the excess fat!
The excess duck fat may be re-used at a later date – it’ll give an excellent flavour to roast potatoes and veg, so don’t throw it out! Just store it in a preserving jar in the fridge. The fat will last a good few months under these conditions.
When you want to use the duck fat, warm it through in a saucepan over a gentle heat, then pass it through a sieve to remove any duck meat or pieces that may remain from prior use and put it to work with your vegetables, as you would usually use butter or lard.
I don’t know how I’d never made it to Palma before now. Wonderful tales of Mallorcan life have been reaching my ears for years, many imparted with passion by people who return year after year for just a bit more of what this picturesque Mediterranean isle has to offer. On this, my first visit, three generations of family shared self-catering accommodation just outside Palma. Some weeks later we’re still reliving it and reading as much as we can about the island.
Here’s a taste of Palma’s Old Town, the focus of which is undoubtably the Catedral. It’s like a Titanic of ecclesiastical architecture – an absolute behemoth on the Palma skyline.
Off the Carrer d’En Morei, a narrow street running away from the back of the Catedral towards the Plaça de Santa Eulàlia, we peeked into inner courtyards – this one belonging to a hotel but others the sanctuary of local folk.
Horse-drawn carriages wend their way around Old Palma offering visitors a quaint, if slightly kitsch, way to see the town.
In the Plaça de la Cort there’s an olive tree so gnarled and ancient that it definitely shows it’s been eight hundred or so years on the planet.
Many shops sell Mallorcan delicacies: from dried sausage and flavoured oils to the popular ensaimadas – large, spiral-shaped pastries filled with sweet cream or marmalade, almond paste or a host of other sweet surprises. I was particularly drawn to the Aladdin’s Cave frontage of this little store of Mallorcan produce.
A close up of the little mannequin for you:
Another glimpse behind a pair of old gates:
And lastly, our view back at base after a hard day on our feet. Time to kick back with a chilly glass of blanco.
TOTAL yoghurt is totally, one hundred per cent Greek. Not Greek-style, but authentically Greek, as in Nana Mouskouri Greek, only a bit older. TOTAL was born of a traditional Greek recipe in 1926. It’s so natural that all it contains is milk, cream and live yoghurt cultures. It’s a household name here in the UK and has been since it was first imported here in 1983, but how much further than breakfast do YOU think when you open a punnet of yoghurt? Sadly, a lot of folk don’t recognise the massive potential yoghurt has as a healthy cream-substitute for all sorts of kitchen creations. Now, courtesy of the Total Greek Yoghurt cookbook by Chef Sophie Michell, yoghurt’s versatility is highlighted in a great many delicious and healthy ways.
For instance, did you know that Total 0% Greek yoghurt contains only 57kCal per 100 grams? Or that it has a fat content of zero? Okay, you probably guessed that from the name. It’s high in protein, extremely low in sugar, making it ideal for diabetics and dieters, whilst lending its thick, creamy texture to all sorts of dishes, sweet and savoury alike. Even TOTAL’s Classic Greek Yoghurt is still low on calorie count (96 per 100 grams), fat and sugar. So, it scores low where it counts, but is also high scoring in all the right places – like protein and calcium content. To boot, TOTAL is blessedly gluten free for anyone with that particular intolerance.
Science over, let’s flick through the recipes in the book. There are three main sections:
- Small Plates and Soups
- Main Plates
- Sweet Plates, Shakes and Smoothies
Under Small Plates there are wonderful concoctions – both the expected Greek staples, such as taramasalata – this time served alongside green olive and lemon bread containing Greek yoghurt, and dolmades served with a dipping side of yoghurt, but there are also surprises which bring the warm Mediterranean sun out from behind the clouds – such as barbecued watermelon with agave and Greek yoghurt (if you don’t have a barbie, Michell has thoughtfully suggested using a griddle pan). The recipes take their influence from a variety of cuisines, too, so we’re not always going to be noshing down with the gods on Mount Olympus. There are crab cakes and wontons and a ceviche-inspired King Prawn cocktail. The yoghurt may be Greek, but we’re travelling the world here.
For something more substantial, skip to the Main Plates section. Here you’ll find generous salads, a rich macaroni cheese, a very grown-up version of baked beans with mustard (and Greek yoghurt) mash, fish tacos with chipotle yoghurt and pickled red onions, and one-pan meals like the smoked haddock and prawn pilaf with coriander and cashew yoghurt.
When I decided to recipe test from the book I went for an old favourite: potato rösti. Here it’s plated up with smoked salmon, vodka-spiked yoghurt and salmon keta. I was salivating more than Cerberus once I’d chosen to whip up a plate of these, so didn’t make it to the shops to pick up the keta, but next time I’ll make sure to do so (and there will definitely be a next time).
The recipe was straightforward to follow, written (as so many are not) in a logical sequence. Apart from one naughty deviation, where I added one finely sliced small onion to the rösti mixture, because I do so love a bite of onion in my potato cakes, the whole process went like a dream and tasted precisely as it should, give or take an onion. As for the vodka-spiced yoghurt, it’s the essence of simple yet wicked enough to be whipped up and paired with other fishy dishes another time.
Which brings me to the TOTAL + pages. There are four of these: TOTAL +1 is comprised of incredibly short recipes for sauces, dips and the like, made up of a mere two ingredients – TOTAL Greek yoghurt being one, plus one other. Creamy chocolate dip, miso dip, yoghurt-dipped strawberries feature here. So quick, so EASY. TOTAL +2 uses two ingredients on top of the yoghurt component, and there’s a special, second TOTAL +2 page in the Sweet Plates section. Lastly, TOTAL +3 is where to find the recipes for yoghurt plus three ingredients. Your classic tzatziki is here, with a beetroot version, a couple of dressings, a dip (blue cheese) and sriracha chilli and lime sauce.
Just a word on the layout: most of the recipes have a page to themselves, with a glorious photo of either the food or some aspect of Greek life opposite. What I really appreciate about the food styling here is that it looks like any reader can make this food. It isn’t overly groomed or presented as if you need a Michelin star just to deign a peek at the pic; the food is displayed on simple kitchenware and has a slightly tousled, ruffled air to it, as if it’s just been tossed out of a normal pan in an average kitchen, from Anywheres-ville. I find that lack of pretension quietly reassuring. As for the lifestyle images featuring Greece and Greeks, they could be holiday snaps, they’re so relaxed. This only adds to the flavour of the book as no-nonsense and accessible.
The Sweet Plates chapter once again follows world cuisines, but the page I gravitate towards each time I open this book boasts recipes for five ice lollies. In execution, they couldn’t be more basic, yet the flavour combinations of rosewater and pistachio, peach and honey, to give just two examples, evoke images of Halcyon days. As the shortest day of the Northern Hemisphere year approaches, those are images I like to hold in my head and, call me odd, but I’ve always preferred ice lollies in winter. This may well be my next TOTAL-ly Greek kitchen experiment.
Sophie Michell is Britain’s youngest female Executive Chef , running Pont St. at Belgraves Hotel, in London’s Belgravia. She was one of four female chefs tasked with creating The Gorgeous Kitchen at Heathrow’s revamped Terminal 2 (opened in June 2014), co-presents the popular TV show Cook Yourself Thin and is a guest judge on Iron Chef USA. Michell has been travelling to Greece on a regular basis since she was two years old and has drawn on her experience of cooking with TOTAL Greek yoghurt in Crete to inspire this book.
**The TOTAL Greek Yoghurt Cookbook by Sophie Michell is published by Kyle Books and retails at £19.99.
Bombay Lunchbox is a compact cookbook, filled to the brim with sweet and savoury tiffin recipes and the sort of photography that makes the reader’s tummy rumble and feet itch. When I received it for review, I was unprepared for how this little book would make me feel once I turned the first few pages. The illustrations go far to make it less of a read or instructive kitchen tool and more of an experience, like a city break on paper. It’s so evocative that you can almost SMELL India on these pages.
So, Bombay Lunchbox arrived in the post. Before I knew it, I’d tabbed the pages of recipes I’d decided to try. Next, came the necessary spice inventory to ensure I could properly make myself an authentic little tiffin. There was then an outing to a nearby Indian spice merchant to fill the ingredient gaps, and the dusting off of my cake stand, ready for loading with cucumber sandwiches spiked with spicy mint and coriander chutney and miniature masala papad. Darjeeling tea was brewed along with a little dish of sugared fennel seeds, which I could quite happily shovel into my mouth by the handful. To complete the scene, should I watch a Bollywood classic, or snort my way through the antics of Clarkson, May and The Hamster in the Top Gear India special?
In fact, the tv remained resolutely cold as I decided instead to google all things tiffin, such was the effect of reading Bombay Lunchbox. Nibbles of warm, oozy chilli cheese toasties fuelled my surfing. And this is what I found:
It’s a proper, four-tiered tiffin tin – which, if you don’t have a wallah to deliver your lunch in such colourful style to the office, could act as an original serving tool for an Indian food-fest at your place. It could also be combined with a copy of Bombay Lunchbox and some Indian spices to create a wonderful gift for an Indian food-loving friend. Then all that remains is to make a date to cook up a tiffin storm together and settle in for some back-to-back Bollywood.
Bombay Lunchbox by Carolyn Caldicott, photos by Chris Caldicott, RRP £9.99
Hand-painted tiffin tin currently £39.99 on Amazon UK (by Indian Tiffin)
I don’t SUPPOSE many of my readers start buying presents for loved ones in October. Then again, you might. Please do correct me if I’m wrong. Anyway, when I visited my local supermarket yesterday there were plenty of chocaholic advent calendars on display, which makes me think that if I start buying the odd present now, December won’t be so painful.
Bring on http://www.suppose.com/
This is a site where you look at their wares and track them. If the item is on Suppose, it’s already likely to be cheaper than anywhere else you might buy it. Register yourself and you’ll be able to track the price of your chosen item, and Suppose will let you know when it reaches the level you’re comfortable with paying.
Suppose asked me to look at blue-eyed Paul Hollywood of The Great British Bake Off fame and one of his books: How to Bake.
The cover price for this particular cookbook is £20.00. When Suppose sent it to me it was £4.00 if you bought it from their site. These prices do tend to go up and down, but given that Christmas isn’t far away, I’d recommend checking out Suppose and its other offers. It could well save you a fortune in the run-up to crazy Crimbo.
Anyway, if you want to get Mr Hollywood’s How to Bake at a steal, have a look at Suppose here: http://suppose.com/howtobake
I was recently enticed all the way across London in heat wave temperatures to hear about London’s food trends and sample a selection of John Quilter’s recipes using Loyd Grossman sauces. As I exited Old Street tube station, dripping with discomfort following a long, airless tube journey, I hoped the evening would prove worthwhile. As I sat, chilled espresso martini in hand, listening to Charles Banks pronounce on London’s food trends, I forgot the make up sliding down my face for a while. Self-lubricating, re-energised thanks to the caffeine in hand, this was my kind of event – educational and not just about stuffing one’s face whilst murmuring an appreciative ‘ah, delicious’.
Charles Banks is co-founder of the agency known as Food People. It consults on food trends, working with clients to build product and strategy appropriate to the current market. These folk know their onions, in a literal sense. Here’s the Food People’s breakdown of what’s hot on the London food scene right now:
- Trends include American and Mediterranean food. Neither are new to London, but both are ramping up their volume a notch. Diner food like burgers and hot dogs has never been so gourmet. Chase them down with bubbly or bourbon cocktail, or think gimlet for an All-American experience. As for nosh from the Med, it’s expanding its perimeter and becoming more aware of seasonality. Recent TV jaunts around the area see chefs waving their whisks amidst the landscapes of the ancients. Given the delights of Mediterranean produce coupled with animated cuisiniers and the landscapes that wanderlust is made of, it’s little wonder that the food of the Med is seeing a revival, an update and a resurgence of popularity.
- Mash ups are essentially the creative merger of two meal concepts with unexpected results. Nacho lasagne uses layers of nacho chips and cheese to replace the usual pasta layer. A ramen burger places the meat pattie between buns made of compressed noodles; and soup with mac ‘n’ cheese sees a dollop of the latter dunked into the former.
- More styles see Small Plate Dining coming to the fore. The idea is to order a lot of small plates to share. The popularity of cicchetti-inspired eateries and Peruvian restaurants with an accent on small quantities with big flavour is where the appeal lies. It’s also far from being a burden on the waistline.
- Dude Food is a style for the carnivore. Think meat, spice and the fire turned way up.
- Everyday Food Done Better is where you take an everyday homemade meal and play around with the ingredients to make it same same but different. Think cheese on toast but replace your classic cheddar with gorgonzola and garnish with fresh pear. Or take fried chicken and add some Korean influence – a touch of sesame, a cup of gochujang – for a different taste entirely.
- According to the Food People’s research, the trending flavour for 2014 is chilli. There certainly seem to be more colours, flavours and varieties available than ever before. My tip: get a selection and experiment with them at home so you know your jalapeño from your habanero.
- Future flavours are predicted as being Persian, Israeli and Greek. This excites me. All things cardamom and saffron, chickpea and spice. Who said Falafel?
- Fusing Flavour and Format is where you take the flavours of one cuisine and present them in the format of another. Think confit de canard with caramelised onions and chèvre presented burger-style in a brioche bun. Oh-so-very French, but within an American format.
- Then there’s the developing trend for sensory restaurants. We’ve all heard about the one where there’s no light, in order to heighten the diner’s sense of taste. Well, now we’re seeing new concepts like the Edible Cinema, where you snack on particular items at key points during the screening of a film, each food relating directly to the current sequence and intended to add to the sensory experience, through taste, sound, sense and touch.
- Further trending flavours feature Savoury in Sweet – for example a strawberry spinach salad or marmite caramel cupcake.
- Lastly, there’s the age-old classic ingredient: alcohol. Slow cook some brisket in beer and hickory barbecue sauce or stir piña colada into a pannacotta. I think it’s time to dust off my retro-Cointreau chocolate mousse recipe.
John Quilter, Food Busker
Following a rough pregnancy and even rougher ‘special delivery’ of our small person this summer, I seriously doubted I was up for a trip to France. Two months into parenthood, still feeling battered and bloated and somewhat embarrassed to be seen in public, I somehow lost the family holiday debate to the ever-persuasive Monsieur and we set off for his motherland for the first time with buggy and baby seat loaded into the car, not to mention our BABY.
One of the highlights of this trip was a stay in La Baule. It’s one of those French Atlantic seaside towns with whimsical, slope-roofed houses shaded by soaring, aromatic pines. I loved it from the very minute we arrived. However, I soon found that this was a vacation spot for the chic, slim, sparrow-boned French and every time I passed a reflective surface, my image screamed HEFFALUMP! How ever could I hold my head high in my current, still-swollen state, whilst surrounded by such studiously-maintained examples of the human form? If it’s one thing I’ve learned since meeting my Frenchman, the French are extremely efficient at commenting on one’s size and think nothing of discussing diets at the dinner table. I hoped the presence of my dear, precious child might cut me some slack this time.
On top of my confidence crisis, Monsieur and I were so new to taking our baby out that you could have hung L plates around our necks and called us Learner (Baby) Drivers. Just the thought of dining out with her was enough to make me itch with anxiety. What if she cried and we couldn’t soothe her? Would the restaurant have changing facilities? Did we have enough milk with us? Nappies? Wipes? Would restaurants even WANT us there, now we had a small child? It all seems so silly in hindsight, but at the time these were very real anxieties for us. The good thing about travelling so early on in our baby’s life was that it threw us into the parenting pool’s deep end and we were forced to swim which, with practice, we did.
Our first day in La Baule we decided to take a stroll along the promenade, in the hope of finding lunch with a view. I was positively dizzy with all of the above concerns, not to mention the heat. We reached one eatery on the beach, but it was down on the sand with no ramp, only stairs. There was no way we could get the buggy down to the door so we walked on. Eventually, we found Nossy Be, a smart establishment, also on the sand, but with a navigable ramp leading down to the entrance. So far, so promising, but once inside my heart sank. It was so super-hip modern that if a mirror ball had suddenly started twirling to the latest euro-beat, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. As for the patrons – they were all perfectly bronzed, in crisp polos and Bermudas, or ethereal kaftans with the style of sandal that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a goddess lunching at Mount Olympus. I, by contrast bright white and elephantine, was absolutely certain that we weren’t their kind of desirable and prepared for the ‘I’m sorry, we have no free tables,’ brush-0ff, especially as I couldn’t see any space for us in the bustling restaurant. I was wrong.
A waiter and his colleague asked us to wait for a moment, then busied themselves finding spare seats to position around a low table not far from the bar. In a flash, the table was set and we were seated, with ample room for the baby in her buggy. Menus arrived, as did chilled water – Ferrarelle, an Italian brand that I rate for its gentle bubble and faintly salty taste. So far, the brownie points were accruing fast in this eatery’s favour.
Monsieur and I shared a starter of melon and prosciutto – the melon fanned across the plate in fine slices, contrasting with the insouciant tumble of ham.
I followed on with a starter size of red tuna tartare, presented South-East Asian style, with a garnish of small beads of wasabi that looked just like luminous, green caviar might. A verrine of refreshing petits pois soup and mint ‘nuage’, or foam, accompanied the plate.
Monsieur ordered a stir fry of rice with King Prawns, which he pronounced ‘excellent'; this is praise indeed from a particularly particular eater. It arrived atop giant petals of watermelon radish – at once arresting on the plate, but also cooling against the spice of this dish.
This place was a revelation for an anxious new mum. We were impeccably looked after, were placed sensitively with ample room to care for our little one, the food was excellent in all respects AND we had a sea front view. With a glass of chilled rosé I felt less harried and more human. More human, that is, until a whiff of something a little earthy floated up from the buggy and I found out the hard way how important it is to find eateries with baby changing facilities. Trying to change a wriggling two month-old on a loo seat is far from fun, especially when there’s a queue of the be-jewelled and be-kaftanned lined up outside and your baby is letting out wails to rival the loudest siren. Blessedly, this was the only blip we experienced at Nossy Be.
In summary? Food – superb and not too calorific. Views – of beach, sea and excellent for people-watching. Staff – you’ll seldom find such helpful individuals. Family-friendly? Definitely. There were other babies and small patrons present – all accepted without fuss and kindly catered for. Downside? No changing tables for small babies, but the food and service were so good that this is just nitpicking. Budget – above average but acceptable, given the quality of produce. On my dime – anytime. Reservations – we walked in without one and were generously accommodated, however, another time I’d reserve, especially in high season.
Nossy Be, Beach and Lounge Restaurant
02 40 604 225
Plage La Baule, opposite 15 boulevard Darlu