« June 2005 | Main | August 2005 »

11 posts from July 2005

29 July 2005

Cavatelli e Orecchiette di Grano Arso

I've just seen this recipe for Cavatelli e Orecchiette di Grano Arso on Potential Gold.  Although at first sight the recipe looks like it's for pasta with a big arse, it isn't.  It not only sounds delicious but there's an intriguing history behind the dish.  I'll let Ore (Potential Gold's author) explain further. 

If you like Italian cooking, I'd also recommend looking through Ore's posts on his site about his time at Slow Food Cittá di Jesi, otherwise known as the home of the Slow Cooking movement's school in Jesi, Italy.

Whole Foods / Fresh & Wild

On a recent trip to Washington DC I went to Whole Foods for the first time.  On the one hand it was impressive to have somewhere that size serve up so much healthy food.  On the other, I had a slight sense of dread that really this was just a Wal-Mart/Tesco in disguise.  Having said that, I did also wonder why nothing like that existed in the UK.

I was reminded of this twice in the last 24 hours.  First with Channel 4's Dispatches: Supermarket Secrets program, on last night.  Second, The Economist's profile of John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods.  But, I am wrong.  Because we do have our own version of Whole Foods, Fresh & Wild, which it turns out is owned by Whole Foods.  F&W stores are nowhere near the size of WF but they do sell good stuff.  But my scepticism remains and it can largely be summed up with The Economist's headline "Wal Mart for the granola crowd."  On the one hand these stores are little more than supermarkets with the same profit imperatives as the mainstream retailers, on the other they have this slightly grating tendency towards right-on attitudes.

I would have assumed these two traits are mutually exclusive, the success of Whole Foods would imply otherwise.  I would be interested to know just what suppliers think of them, whether they're really any better or worse than a Tesco or Sainsbury's.  I also think it would be interesting for someone to look into the real level of choice they offer us.  Are the products they stock significantly different from the "Best of" ranges so favoured by (UK) supermarkets?  It's also interesting that the two markets where these Organic Supermarkets seem to succeed are the US and UK, both of which lack the European market tradition and have a heavy reliance on supermarkets.

Or possibly, my cynicism is misplaced and in fact someone has tapped into a very clever concept: there is a significant customer base that is willing to pay a premium for higher quality food, but who are used to (and like) shopping in supermarkets.  As such consumers intuitively get the concept, which explains why these stores flourish in wealthy neighbourhoods of wealthy countries.

27 July 2005

We're Jewish, therefore we eat

It doesn't take a genius to realise that food and judaism are inextricably linked.  As the Jerusalem Post notes "they tried to kill us - we survived - let's eat."  (Thankfully though the Holocaust has not been subject to a fress-up, yet).  I'm already excited at the prospect of Rosh Hashanah (not for another two months) because of the culinary delights it brings with it.  Not least, my annual opportunity to unleash my full cooking powers on my entire family and in-laws.

Anyway, Food and Judaism looks a pretty interesting book.  I haven't read it yet (nor have I bought it for that matter) but it seems worth a read.  If the JPost article is correct and there is no reference to Sephardi food then it is a shame, but there is a ton of material out there on Sephardi food.  Claudia Roden, doyen of such matters, devotes the majority of her The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkind and Vilna to the Present Day to Sephardi food with lots of detailed culinary history.

Greenspoon LJ,  Simkins R, Shapiro G (eds) 2005, Food and Judaism, University of Nebraska Press (ISBN: 1881871460)
Roden C, 1999, The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkind and Vilna to the Present Day, Penguin Books (ISBN: 0140466096)

Pont de la Tour ***

I went to Pont de la Tour for a client lunch yesterday and had the most appalling service.

I know that there are a multitude of views about the various Conrans, but I think this generally serves some of the best food. Additionally, the location is great if you're based in the City but want to quickly feel like you're out of it (the City, not life).

Anyway, back to yesterday. The overriding feeling I came away with was that the whole service side of things was amateurish. I arrived with one guest and we were waiting for a third. When the two of us sat down, a waiter appeared and promptly removed the setting for the third person - when we pointed out his mistake he muttered something about being told it was only for two people.

We then ordered a bottle each of sparkling and still water. Two of us were having still, one having sparkling. Now I am perfectly capable of filling up my own glass and that of my guests and I do slightly object to waiters always coming over and topping up. Especially when they repeatedly get it wrong and fill the still drinkers’ glass with fizzy and vice versa, time and again. The waiters found it amusing, I found it aggravating and embarrassing, after all this was my recommendation and I was paying.

They then got the place settings wrong, forgetting to give me a spoon with my soup. The chocolate coffee beans they serve at the end of the meal looked old and tired, as though they'd melted slightly and then had resolidified.

The problems I had with service are a shame because I think the food here is actually very good. In particular, my gazpacho was beautifully seasoned and my black truffle risotto was delicious, great flavours and perfect consistency. It is also great value for money with a two course lunch coming in just under £30 per head. Maybe this is the problem? It shouldn't be. With a full restaurant they should be making plenty of money to ensure they have the best staff, especially as most bills are topped up with bottles of wine that rarely dip below £30.

It's a shame because I think this could be a great restaurant and I believe that it used to be. But service like I got yesterday is shocking and inexcusable. Apart from having a bit of a rant on here I toyed with what I should do. I could have not paid the service charge but I didn't want to make a scene with my guests there. So I decided to phone them and let them know. Their response was "So what do you want us to about it?" Although at an attempt at redemption they did quickly add they would mention it to the manager.

In answer to their question, I want them to sort out the issues. I wasn't after a free meal, I just want the level of service to live up to the level of the food.

Pont de la Tour, Butlers Wharf, 36d Shad Thames, London, SE1 2YE, UK
Tel: 020 7403 8403
Google Maps
Google Earth

What others think
New York Times - a perfect summer spot

26 July 2005

Mauling the Michelin myth

There was a slot on this morning's Today programme about Alain Senderens decision to return the three Michelin stars for his Paris restaurant, Lucas Carton.  Basically, he's peed off at having to kowtow to Michelin requirements which he is seeing as increasingly irrelevant.  Consequently, he's shutting down the restaurant and reopening it as traditional bistro.

I've always disliked the more poncy element to restaurants that hanker after Michelin stars and it seems slightly pointless to me to serve food that just ticks boxes.  Senderens seems to have decided he'd prefer to cook the food he wants rather than the food he's supposed to - a laudable intention.

Michelin has rather haughtily pointed out that you can't return stars because they are in Michelin's gift and they can proffer or remove them as they see fit.  Michelin has also said that it will keep sending inspectors to Lucas Carton and so inevitably there will be a big splash if/when it loses its stars.  The high regard that Michelin continues to be held in does seem a bit odd.  Especially when the opportunity is out there for more democratic methods to rank restaurants, egullet being a good example.  Superchef also raises the prospect of whether Senderens' move could mean another shift in the food we eat at restaurants, in the same way that he led the charge on nouvelle cuisine.  Let's just hope that if Superchef is right, there'll be more food on our plates this time round.

25 July 2005

Robuchon hits London

Exciting news, according to Nick Lander.  Joël Robuchon is opening up one of his eponymous L'Ateliers in London.  I will obviously be forced to compare London with Paris.  So be it.

19 July 2005

Refettorio ****

Much has been written about Giorgio Locatelli's City outpost and from what I can see all of it is positive.  Having had lunch there last week I can see why.

The restaurant is in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, just by Blackfriars.  It is a widely known fact that hotel restaurants are not usually the homes of good food.  What's interesting about the Crowne Plaza is that the management team have accepted this fact and decided to outsource the food to others.  Outsourcing is a dreaded word when it comes to food, think about nasty school dinners, but it works well here.  Apart from Refettorio, the hotel's coffee bar is run by up-market sandwich company Benugo.  All of this bodes very well.

This is the place to eat if you want excellent quality Italian food with good service.  I didn't experience any of the service niggles that others have complained about and the food arrived pretty quickly.  The maitre d' recommended we started with two antipasti plates, one was carne, the other formaggi.  Luckily my guest wasn't too keen on the cheese and wanted to focus on the meat, which suited my purposes down to the ground.  There was a selection of four or five cheeses, laid out on brown wax paper, sitting on a wooden board.  The meat came similarly served.  There's no point in me trying to guess what each of the cheeses was but they ran the full gamut of Italian cheesemaking, from the soft to the hard, the pungent to the delicate. 

Sitting on the cheese board was a saucer of translucent liquid.  Having no idea what it was I dipped some bread in and tasted the most amazing honey.  It had virtually no colour to it but the flavour was fantastic - sweet and rich but not cloying.  The clean meat board indicated to me the meats were just as good as the cheese.  I also ordered a side dish of marinated artichoke hearts and my guest ordered a side of marinated beetroot.  Each dish was simple and played to the strengths of the respective vegetables.  The beetroot had that zingyiness to it that you want and the fantastic olive oil/vinegar marinade of the artichoke hearts meant they were so tender, they yielded to a fork.

Being a rather hot summer's day I decided I couldn't face anything too heavy for main course so went for the freshly made gnocchi with pesto.  Again, it was beautiful.  All too often gnocchi can be stodgy and unremarkable.  These were soft and light - like little potato pillows.  The pesto itself was nothing special, frankly I can't remember much about it.  My guest's steak looked fantastic, although a bit on the rarer side than the medium rare he requested.  Our side dish of fried zuchinni were so thinly sliced they looked more like hay than courgettes.  Deeply fried, but not oily or greasy they too were fantastic.

I can't recall the wine we had but I do remember it was a Pugliese white.  Served ice cold it was perfect for a day that was in excess of 30°.

We didn't have space for dessert but the amuse bouche of lemon custard cornetti with the espressos were fantastic and of themselves worth returning for. 

Refettorio, Crowne Plaza Hotel, 19 New Bridge Street, London, EC4V 6DB, UK
Tel: 020 7438 8052
Google Maps
Google Earth

What others think
The Observer - Proof that you don't need an oven
The Times - The missing link is found