Simplicity is simply the best

photo 2 Following that amazing mozzarella salad thing I had in Paris what was now nearly a month ago, I’ve been dying to have it again. But it’s so hard to find that kind of a dish in London, restaurants seldom do such simple food lest they get booted for charging too much for a couple of slices of tomato and a hunk of mozzarella. But it’s the quality of the ingredients they use in restaurants are so fantastic they do have to charge a premium rate to actually make their margins.

So, rather than wait to find it on a menu, or indeed until I go back to Paris, I made it for lunch today. I’m currently dog-sitting and sifting through old photos while my parents are at a party ‘Up North’ for the weekend. The bonus about doing this, is that Mum fills the fridge with all my favourite food and I happened to come across some vine ripe tomatoes and tub of buffalo mozzarella. I can’t really call this a recipe as it’s so simple, the importance of using the best ingredients you possibly can will make this dish what it should be. Mine was just a solo lunch but the recipe below is for two.

6 vine ripe tomatoes
1 ball of buffalo mozzarella
10 or so fresh basil leaves
1 tsp white wine vinegar
3 tbsp good olive oil
1 garlic clove

  •  Finely chop the garlic and crush it under the knife so it releases all its juices
  • Pour the white wine vinegar and olive oil into a cup. Add the garlic and a teeny tiny pinch of salt and leave it to one side
  • Cut the tomatoes into wedges – I did about 8 per tomato and place in the serving dish
  • Rip apart the mozzarella gently and add them to the dish so you have uneven morsels throughout the dish
  • Dressing time – and it’s a bit ponsy – but dip the tip of a fork into the dressing and let the drips drop onto the salad, do this until there are a few drops everywhere.photo 5
  • Basil leaves onto the salad and a sprinkle of black pepper
  • Serve and enjoy

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Bistrot Paul Bert, Paris

french flagThe French Chapter

Our faith having been restored in the food to be found in Paris, ironically by a chippy owned by an English bloke, we were eagerly anticipating dinner that evening. Well, if I’m honest I wasn’t, purely down to the fact that I wasn’t remotely hungry from ginormous fish and chips at lunch and a huge dinner the night before. I know, I know, it’s unlike me to not be looking forward to a meal… You’ll be delighted to hear I perked up once I saw the menu at Bistrot Paul Bert.

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We had successfully booked dinner on the night before we actually turned up, but they very kindly fitted us in. A blackboard menu was propped up on the table and a ginormous wine list was placed in front of us.

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To start with I went with the buffalo mozzarella and heritage tomato salad, I’d seen it being taken to other tables and despite the fact that it is presented in a cheapo Pyrex dish with a paper doily under it, it was utterly gorgeous. The mozzarella was proper mozzarella, none of your rubbery-cut-with-a-bread-knife lark, it was gooey and falling apart with bits sticking to the wonderful tomatoes, such a colourful and fresh dish. I was in absolute heaven. Dad had the terrine, of course, and loved it while Mum and Will went for a beetroot dish with a soft boiled egg and lambs lettuce which has got my mum cooking beetroot again now she’s home, so must have been good!

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I didn’t have a steak the entire time I was in France that weekend (nor the next weekend) which was slightly disappointing, and I really wanted one after my mozzarella, but having seen the size of the, knowing how greedy I am and my incapability of leaving food on my plate, I thought it best for all concerned that I went for something else… I absolutely love beans, not green beans specifically, although they are good, but I’m talking flageolet / cannellini / butter beans, the Europeans do them so so much better than we do here in the UK. So I went for the pork chop, something I never order in the UK because of one or two occasions when it’s arrived and I could have knocked someone out with it it was so dry. My fat arrived with a side of pork. Fortunately, even though the fatty bit was huge, there was lots of meat on the plate as well. And the beans were delicious if a little under seasoned (the fork in the picture is my Dad trying to pinch some beans). Mum and Will’s steaks looked and apparently were delicious – although, as I thought, enormous. And Dad’s rack of lamb was beautiful and pink.

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Having spotted a cheeseboard floating around, we wondered if you had to know the owner or be a party of a certain size to have the cheeseboard plonked on your table for you to essentially eat as much as you want. No no, it arrived with more bread and we went to work on the 6 cheese available to us. All were fantastic and, needless to say, we didn’t make much of a dent in it, given how much we’d eaten already.

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A slightly cheaper night than the evening before, but the atmosphere and service and food and wine, oh, the wine, Will and I chose some really special stuff were worth every penny. I will be back there next time I’m in Paris.

The Sunken Chip, Paris

french flag    The French Chapter

When I sent a pic of my fish and chips I’m Paris to some friends in England they were horrified… If I’d sent then a filet de sole meunière avec frites they wouldn’t have said a thing of course, but I was sitting on the side of a canal eating battered hake, awesome chips and minty mushy peas out of a paper wrapper with a wooden fork so it didn’t sit right with them at home.

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The Sunken Chip, owned by and English and a Frenchman is the quintessential Fish and Chip shop with a trendy hipster ultra cool vibe, and the Parisians love it. The interior is fairly sparse, with a ‘takeaway’ neon on the wall above a shelf of pickled onions and pickled eggs of varying flavours. They’ve spent a great deal of time importing some British childhood favourites – who remembers Wham bars and sherbet dib dabs… Well they’ve got them, as well as refresher bars and curly wurlys, oh and the drinks – who wouldn’t want a can of IronBru with their fish and chips?! For the grown ups wanting a taste of home, they’ve got Newcastle Brown Ale that my Dad loved!

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Three of us went for the Hake and chips while Dad opted for the haddock and chips – be aware what is on the menu isn’t always there, they rely on their fishmonger bringing the freshest catch each day – cliché I know, but it’s true.

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The hake was delicious, juicy and flakey and perfectly cooked. The batter was crispy and light. It’s a generous portion of fish and even more so of chips, which are much better than your local chippy, the right ratio of softness to crispy ends.

To the Mushy peas… I’m not a fan generally… Too much school snot look-a-like stuff is etched into my memory, but I was assured by my brother that these were fantastic. Of course they were. On the cusp of being crushed rather than mushy, but they were fresh and minty and lush (yep, I really did just type the word lush).

I’d go back there any day, if I can find it, it’s bloody marvellous.

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La Fermette Marbeuf, Paris

french flag  The French Chapter

A couple of weeks ago we surprised my Dad, who was turning 70, and took him away to Paris, beginning our weekend of far too much food and even more amounts of ridiculously good wine at the Champagne Bar at St Pancras Grand. Two bottles of extremely good Pouilly-Fuissé, Clos Reissier, Perraton Frères 2011 later we were off, laden down with a fantastic picnic I’d pre-ordered from Peyton & Byrne in the station.  More on the wine in another post…

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Our first dinner in Paris was to revisit a restaurant that my grandfather had taken Mum and Dad to back in the 80’s or 90’s I can’t remember… The point is, it’s old, and boy does it show in places. La Fermette Marbeuf is pretty unassuming from the street, and it looked empty as well, it’s not until you are taken into the back Art Deco conservatory do you see the fantastic space they’ve had hidden for years.

Our hugely over enthusiastic head waitress greeted us and provided our aperitifs swiftly and then completely forgot about us. As by this time my parents were mildly concerned about my health as I hadn’t requested a glass of Champagne having spent a whole 3 hours in France, I obediently ordered a glass of Pommery and Dad accompanied me in doing this.

The menu; how do I describe this… It’s dated, to say the least. I chose my starter very well having figured that as they were pushing lobster a lot on the menu, the bisque would probably be good and fresh  – it was. And they gave me a top up halfway through, which was useful to warm up the tepid portion they’d poured first. Mum, Dad and my brother went for starters from the ‘Nos Feuilletés’ section. Mum and Will had the special which was Serano ham and a poached egg on puff pastry – cold – apparently, well except the egg. Dad had the snail one and after serving the wrong one, his arrived straight out of the fires of mount Etna – the plate and food were so hot that you could feel the warmth even holding your hand a foot above the plate.fermette Feuillete

Main courses, 3 of us had the veal escalope and Will had steak tartare. The veal was fine ish, although the breadcrumbs were soggy and I have no idea what the sauce they served it with was. And, again, it was lukewarm. Will’s steak tartare was fine as well, a restaurant trading on such old school values and styles (that has its own champagne trolley) you would probably expect to do a proper steak tartare at the table – but that’s me being really picky.

We had a couple of boules of soufflé with a sparkler in and pottered off into the night and the delights of the Champs-Élysées on an August night. This was such a special occasion and I think Mum and Dad are glad they have been back, but I’m fairly certain none of us will bother going back again. There were very few French people in there (it’s unfair to judge that during August though). I would worry that one day the novelty of that back room will rub off and the quality of their menu will not be able to stand up to the critique of the modern day diner. But hey, that’s just my opinion. Dinner the next night was fantastic though….

Apologies – these pictures aren’t mine… I didn’t take any.

Dean Street Townhouse #2

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Never have I felt the negative effects of my rich, decadent, foie gras and steak filled lifestyle more than over the last week when I’ve started to cycle into work. I mean, I knew that my trousers had got a little tighter and my chin has definitely become a plural version, but getting on my bike last week to cycle the pitiful 8.4 miles to work and back was fairly difficult. Fear not, I shan’t be giving up the good life – restaurants of the UK, don’t panic, I shall still be available to drink you out of champagne or Beaujolais. But on evenings when I’m not stuffing my face with butter laced pomme puree I shall be found cycling the streets of London on a ridiculous(ly expensive) Halfords / Victoria Pendleton bike that weighs around the same as a baby elephant in an attempt to look less like a beach ball and more like a beach babe (ha, yeah, we can but dream)!

Thank god for it being the last week of August. I had been put in charge of choosing the restaurant, because being in the restaurant industry I’m the only one of my friends who knows anywhere half decent to eat – apparently, and whenever I get asked to do this, I find my mind is suddenly about as empty as the salad drawer in my fridge. I did come up with about 4 options, but none of them took bookings so that was scrapped – 10 Greek St, Ape & Bird, Pitt Cue and one other, I forget where. Anyhoo, I decided to try out Dean St Townhouse again. I went a couple of years ago and had a ‘nice’ meal but very average service and have since only propped up the bar and indulged in their wonderful cocktails and extensive wine list.

We arrived a little early and spent 10 minutes trying to get served at the bar. Thankfully, before one of our party blew a gasket we were taken to our table where water, bread and menus arrived swiftly, followed by a lovely bottle of Picpoul de Pinet and a bottle of Corbieres. We were seated around the corner in slightly lower seating and not right next to the bar which I found was much nicer than my last visit.

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To start with I went for the fried duck egg and girolles on toast while the rest of the table had the steak tartare and the squid. My starter was great, the egg cooked well and the girolles were lovely – it was a little under-seasoned for me, but better that way than too salty which is so easy to do.

For a main I went for the steak, the lamb dish was chosen and two of the party shared the Porterhouse. My steak was delicious, perfectly cooked and with such a good flavour I only used the Bearnaise as a dipping sauce for my chips, it didn’t go near the wonderful beef. I noticed the same of the two sharing the Porterhouse – Bearnaise only for dipping. Really very good. The lamb dish looked good an pink, the only slight thing, and it’s small, but it said kidneys on the menu and there was a little disappointment to only find half a kidney on the plate.

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Not even a slight chance of us fitting in pudding, so we opted for more booze – a Poire Williams and an Amaretto for the girls and two Ron Zacapa Cenenario 23 year old rums for the boys.

It’s not the cheapest of places, but since my last meal there the service has improved 10 fold, the staff were extremely good, friendly and attentive and the food has also improved greatly. They’ve either seriously upped their game or I got it on a bad night the first time, but I’ll definitely be back.

Polpetto, Berwick St

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I do love a good midweek lunch in Soho. And a few weeks it was to Polpetto I went. If I’m honest 10 Greek St was my first choice but it was full and I thought we’d make a change from the ever reliable Prix Fixe.

Part of the Polpo family Polpetto is a tiny little spot on Berwick St – the home of Soho street food vendors. It was oddly quiet, the fruit and veg men were there but there were only one or two street food stalls, which I thought odd for a sunny day. And Polpetto was half empty, which again surprised me given how cool and trendy this place is. Although the food works for a lunch time, I don’t think the room does, it’s dark, really dark – unless you sit at one of the two tables in the window.

We settled in and ordered the chickpeas with Parmesan and rocket flowers, Hake with kohlrabi and some sort of seaweed thing. Crab linguine and braised beef shin with strozzapreti. Oh and some bread.

The chickpea dish was lovely, let’s face it, unless one is vegetarian one very rarely eats chickpeas that aren’t in the form of houmous (my phone just did an autocorrect to Hounslow….) or they find their way into a tagine – both of which are delicious. But to have a dish based around them is fairly new to me and it was fab, they were soft enough to squish in your mouth without trying too hard but not mushy and the citrus really brought out the flavour of both the chickpeas and the cheese.

Then the hake. I’m struggling to find the words for this. It tasted of nothing, no seasoning had been near that plate. Well, sorry, I could taste the lemon juice but the hake was in chunks and it looked like the dish was a sort of ceviche, but the fish was tough and tasteless. Surely ceviche needs a stronger flavoured fish/shellfish? Which is why Salmon and scallops work so well?

At this point we added some bread to our order and three huge thick slices of lightly griddles focaccia arrived, this was great but to be honest some bread with a bowl of oil would have sufficed. It was good though, I’m just moaning.

Moving swiftly on, the linguine and the beef. Both absolutely delicious. A good amount of crab in the linguine with a sauce that stuck to the pasta. The beef shin with strozzapreti was divine. It was rich without being too much to handle and I could have quite happily eaten 3 plates of the stuff.

So, on the face of it Polpetto is great. The food was good, the decor as I’ve said, is more suited to evening time and the service is obviously good – as with any of Russel Norman’s restaurants. But in my (humble) opinion is just didn’t quite do it for me. I know by saying that I’m going against every foodie in London – and that obviously means the entire world. I’m probably being overly critical but given there are those of you out there that say it’s the best thing since sliced bread, I think I expected more, of what I’m not sure, just more, oomph maybe?

I think I ought to go back for dinner.

Or I’ll stick to Polpo or Spuntino both of which I have absolutely loved.

Villiers, Villiers Street

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Two weeks ago, in Italy, my love of tomatoes reached a new high. Tomatoes in Tuscany are fantastic. We think English tomatoes are good in the summer – or at least I do – but these tomatoes are off the chart, juicy and sweet and perfect and a box of 30 of them them cost €2.90. Whereas a line of 10 of them (if you’re lucky) on the vine costs £3 in Sainsbury’s.

In an effort to persuade myself I was still on holiday I went for dinner last week at Villier’s; the new restaurant owned by the chaps that own Gordon’s Wine Bar – that stalwart that is the afterwork drinking hole of the PWCite. Nothing like Gordon’s, Villiers is a clean, well designed restaurant come coffee place that shows all the chains on Villiers Street how it’s done. The Gordon family know what they’re doing. I’ve walked passed and perused the breakfast menu without stopping but it looks good.

It’s only been open a few weeks so I was delighted to bag myself a table in the already busy restaurant. It was busy, but it’s one of those places that is designed is such a way that even if it wasn’t busy you wouldn’t notice. We settled in and ordered a snack, a starter and two main courses.

Bread

The snack and starter arrived – two crab croquettas – these were lovely, bloody hot, but good – if I hadn’t have stopped off to say hi to a friend at the brand spanking new Barrafina en route and tried a bite of their crab croquettas I’d say Villiers ones were great, but Barrafina wins hands down on that front – sorry.

Burrata   Croq

The burrata and heritage tomato salad was very good. I love tomatoes (as we’ve gathered) and the burrata wasn’t too cheesy – I had some the other day that was so pongy that it wasn’t actually that pleasant to eat.

Then the lamb arrived. It was delicious! Wonderfully tender with just the right amount of char on with mash and samphire and double podded broad beans. There was a salsa verde on top with some pomegranate seeds which I’m not sure where mentioned on the menu (I may well be wrong there) but the whole dish was really really good, and a big portion too for £18.50.

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We didn’t manage pudding, but drained the remains of the rather nice bottle of red we went for. The bill came to £75, which I thought was pretty good, although we didn’t order that many dishes, the portion sizes are good and the quality of ingredients were excellent.     Can’t wait to go back and try their breakfasts!