Monthly Archives: January 2012
Last year, on a visit to the medieval village of Provins I was delighted by this beautiful little carousel:
Sadly, no one was riding the horses or jumping into the hot air balloon basket. The music wasn’t playing and the carousel guardian slouched in his seat, puffing cigarette smoke into the hot afternoon air.
The submarine was straight out of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the hot air balloon reminded me of Around the World in Eighty Days. Perhaps the carousel was designed in homage to the great Jules Verne?
I have a soft spot for hot air balloons because Monsieur took me on a balloon trip the morning after he popped the question… But he wasn’t too thrilled when I suggested hopping into this one, especially as it wasn’t going anywhere, not even around in circles.
Isn’t this little plane absolutely wonderful? I can imagine the children of Provins fighting over who gets to ‘fly’ it.
Named ‘Le Petit Prince’ it reminded me of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a great aviator in his own time until his plane went missing with him in it. He’s someone I’d like to have met.
Now for the odd one out (no, not the horses): a fire engine? Really? What does that have to do with intrepid exploring? If you can work out why it’s there, please do let me know.
On the last Friday in January of last year, the sun rose but my heart could not. My father had passed away overnight.
This weekend marks the first anniversary of our loss and I’d like to honour it by remembering a few of the things that my father so loved in life.
Potatoes in every way, shape or form.
Books by the Mitford girls.
Whisky Galore (Ealing comedy).
Taggart (when Mark McManus was still the star).
Single Malt Whisky.
Classical music and jazz.
Eating out (sadly, something he couldn’t do in recent years).
English Breakfast tea.
Old Times Lime Marmalade.
**do you see how I might have inherited some of my passions from this man?**
Another passion of Dad’s was John Betjeman’s poetry. Dad introduced me to it and we both loved the following poem. I was tempted to read it at his funeral, but it didn’t seem right at the time so here it is to help us smile a year on.
Indoor Games Near Newbury
In among the silver birches,
Winding ways of tarmac wander
And the signs to Bussock Bottom,
Tussock Wood and Windy Break.
Gabled lodges, tile-hung churches
Catch the lights of our Lagonda
As we drive to Wendy’s party,
Lemon curd and Christmas cake
Rich the makes of motor whirring
Past the pine plantation purring
Come up Hupmobile Delage.
Short the way our chauffeurs travel
Crunching over private gravel,
Each from out his warm garage.
O but Wendy, when the carpet
Yielded to my indoor pumps.
There you stood, your gold hair streaming,
Handsome in the hall light gleaming
There you looked and there you led me
Off into the game of Clumps.
Then the new Victrola playing;
And your funny uncle saying
“Choose your partners for a foxtrot.
Dance until it’s tea o’clock
Come on young ‘uns, foot it feetly.”
Was it chance that paired us neatly?
I who loved you so completely.
You who pressed me closely to you,
Hard against your party frock.
“Meet me when you’ve finished eating.”
So we met and no one found us.
O that dark and furry cupboard,
While the rest played hide-and-seek.
Holding hands our two hearts beating.
In the bedroom silence round us
Holding hands and hardly hearing
Sudden footstep, thud and shriek
Love that lay too deep for kissing.
“Where is Wendy? Wendy’s missing.”
Love so pure it had to end.
Love so strong that I was frightened
When you gripped my fingers tight.
And hugging, whispered “I’m your friend.”
Goodbye Wendy. Send the fairies,
Pinewood elf and larch tree gnome.
Spingle-spangled stars are peeping
At the lush Lagonda creeping
Down the winding ways of tarmac
To the leaded lights of home.
There among the silver birches,
All the bells of all the churches
Sounded in the bath-waste running
Out into the frosty air.
Wendy speeded my undressing.
Wendy is the sheet’s caressing
Wendy bending gives a blessing.
Holds me as I drift to dreamland
Safe inside my slumber wear.
This is a breakfast that works with a diet: inspired by the healthy breakfast menu at the Shangri La hotel in Singapore.
The field mushrooms are filled with low-fat cream cheese (I use Philadelphia light with chives), then sprinkled with low-fat olive oil and a little parmesan cheese and popped into the oven at 180C for about 10-15 minutes. Garnish with half a cherry tomato on serving. Looking at my attempt above, the mushroom could only benefit from a sprinkling of chopped herbs.
The egg is poached. The baked beans are Weight Watchers. The bacon is smoked back rasher, selected for having less fat, more protein present. 2 rashers should be plenty if you’re watching your weight. Make sure you pat them dry of excess fat with kitchen paper after frying.
When everything hot has landed on the plate, garnish with a handful of fresh leaves. You don’t really need dressing because the salad mops up the flavours of everything else on the plate.
I hope that, like me you’ll find this so simple and tasty that you won’t remember you’re on a diet.
Smoked salmon is so easy to get wrong. Buy the over-farmed or rapid-cure variety and you may find yourself pulling bits of bland stringy stuff out of your teeth, wondering whatever happened to the true taste of the smoked salmon of yesteryear. Get it right, from a fine farmer of happy salmon and the situation flips on its head; silken folds of fish dissolve on the tongue, leaving both a smoky taste - at once tart and salty and succulent with oil - and, of course, the desire for another mouthful.
I’m a massive fan of how they do it at the Hotel Metropole in Hanoi, where the salmon is traditionally served with all condiments, muslin-wrapped lemon and a shot of the smoothest sort of vodka that ex-pat oligarchs might use to toast the Mother Country. The star of the platter is home-smoked, from Norway and boy, is it ever good. So good, in fact, that it almost seems a shame to mess with its pure taste by putting anything with it. To spar with the salmon, two small rounds of toasted baguette crowned with different varieties of smoked salmon share the plate. One is marinated in beetroot, Russian-style, giving it sweet earthiness; the other is stained like piccalilli, hot and tart to the tastebuds.
There’s a taste of salmon roe, another of caviar, a shot of cool sour cream and one of softened cubes of onion, but my favourite condiment is that of minced onion with herbs – scattered onto a forkful of smoked salmon with a dash of sour cream, it gives the tastebuds a reason to put on their dancing shoes.
At $19.00 US this isn’t the cheapest of smoked salmon offerings to be found in an international restaurant, but if you like value for money, I’d say that with the generous serving of finest Norwegian salmon and attention to detail in both presentation and quality of ingredients, this is a platter that I won’t forget in a hurry. In homage to a great plate I hereby add it to the Epicurienne Smoked Salmon Hall of Fame.
Once inside I found a lively L-shaped room filled with the happy buzz of people whose appetites were soon to be sated. The decor is Manhattan loft-style, with exposed terracotta brick walls, cosy booths, an open kitchen with bright stainless steel surfaces and when I walked in the kitchen counter was already covered with plates of Iberico ham in different guises. I’d starved myself all day so that I’d have capacity for everything on the menu, so you won’t be surprised to hear that one glance at the ham caused some (discreet) dribbling into the flute of delightfully dry cava that had been offered at the door.
In his welcome address Simon Majumdar, one of the Dos Hermanos behind the event, explained that there had been one thousand applications for tickets for tonight and we were the fortunate fifty to receive them. That was certainly interesting to hear – only five per cent of applicants would share the Dine With Dos Hermanos experience at Pizarro tonight and I was one of them (HOORAY!). I took my seat at a table with three lovely strangers, ready to begin the serious task of eating Mr Pizzaro’s fare.
First to arrive at our table was a plate of croquetas –perfect orbs of gold and so very creamy that they disappeared in a flash, causing me to dub them ‘flash croquetas’. I adore croquetas and these were at the top of their league – no gristle or tough old chunks to distract from the smooth, cheesy potato, just the right consistency with a smoky ham flavour wafting through the middle.
Next to appear was a spread of Jamon Iberico in three different forms, my favourite of which was the chorizo. Sliced paper-thin each mouthful brought more strange noises of contentment. My husband, a die-hard sausage-lover, would have hogged (pardon the pun) the plate for himself, had he been there, so I’m quite selfishly relieved he wasn’t. The accompanying bread was also good – bouncy, yeasty sour-dough, but the quality of the ham before us was such that it fully warranted being eaten on its own.
I went slightly bonkers with delight over the carpaccio of cod with fennel and orange. As the self-dubbed Queen of Carpaccio this combination was right up my street. The fish was fresh with the versatility to add the smack of ocean to the aniseedy fennel and zing of citrus. The only problem with Neptunian carpaccios such as this is that I’m always left wishing for more, still, there’s a way to get around that: I’ll just have to order double quantities next time.
We were next presented with the head of hake – this was understandably ugly yet delicious, with forks about the room excitedly excavating cheeks and precious fleshy bits from all parts of the fish head. Softened red pimentons were scattered liberally about the dish and these were a revelation in themselves – packed full of flavour but with an unexpected velvety texture on the tongue.
By now the guests were all heads-down, merrily eating and critiquing each plate. Meanwhile, the staff didn’t stop. Plates were cleared and new ones presented in a very efficient operation, especially considering that this was soft-opening week so everyone was working hard to get it right before inviting the public to come in and chow down. Such seamless professionalism was impressive, a testament to organisation skill. Not one of the wait-staff looked harassed, just focussed. What’s really amazing is how friendly they all were – no mean feat given the pressure they must have been under.
A side of tiny florets of cauliflower was a pleasant surprise. Cold, crudité-like, with the unexpected tang of vinegar, the cauliflower was simple, refreshing and palate-cleansing before the shift towards the heavier tastes of the evening: duck livers and Iberico pork cheeks.
The duck livers were served with red onion – or were they shallots? Small, red skinned, onion family… the liver was heady, stronger than chicken liver, yet smooth and gamey. The Iberico pork cheeks then arrived – morsels of porcine paradise. They practically dissolved in the mouth requiring next to no mastication – therein lies the beauty of slow-braising.
Then we were onto the cheese course – I regret I didn’t get the names of the cheeses, but being a fromage fan I was easily pleased here as there was a good representation of types – a couple hard and manchego-like with rind, one I’m sure was made from sheep’s milk… some black grapes and fruit chutney were the accompaniment.
And lastly, some cake – my single mouthful of this was enough as desserts are not really my thing, besides which I was thoroughly enjoying the PX Fernando de Castilla sherry, which eclipsed anything else I might have tasted at the time.
Throughout the evening, José Pizarro’s partners in wine from Cillar de Silos had kept us informed about and topped up with various glasses of Spanish goodness. We’d started the evening with a beautifully dry cava, which I wouldn’t hesitate to serve to friends as an aperitif, and then moved onto a rare and special fino from Gonzalo Bayass. The Duero wine-growing region was well represented by the Rosado de Silos and Illar de Silos Crianza from the Silos cellars, and lastly we had the delicious sherry to round off the evening. By the time I left for home I was one very happy bunny.
And so to the verdict on Dine with Dos Hermanos: well worth the effort. The evening was superb, the food and drink quality, the conversation excellent – especially as it mostly revolved around the common interest of the Fortunate Fifty: food. The icing on the tarta is that Simon Majumdar is, in my opinion, a really good egg with the right sort of priorities – family and food. As for José Pizarro, well, he kindly gave me some advice on how to make my tortillitas de camarones better, and that was a bonus to the evening that was most gratefully received.
Pizarro is definitely worth visiting if you’re heading down Bermondsey way. Don’t try to book – there’s a no-reservations policy, but as a back-up, if things are busy, you could always pop along the street to José, the slightly more senior tapas bar in the Pizarro stable, which opened to great acclaim last year. Definitely go to Pizarro if you’re fond of all things Iberico ham, be sure to try the croquetas, and if you’re in the mood for bubbles, why not give the cava a whirl? From what I hear Pizarro has had the odd teething problem since the DWDH evening, but that’s to be expected of any new establishment. Put simply, I’ll be returning soon with my chorizo-chomping husband in tow; he’s even fussier about food than I am, so if that’s not an EPIC seal of approval, I don’t know what is.
Pizarro, 194 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3TQ