« July 2007 | Main | September 2007 »

9 posts from August 2007

21 August 2007

Ratatouille screening

I have an offer for my long suffering readership: some tickets to a special screening of Ratatouille, Pixar's latest offering.

As a grown man I shouldn't be so taken in by an animated American rat wowing a Parisian kitchen, but I am. So, taking the initiative I spoke to a couple of nice people at Disney UK and their PR agency and they agreed to sort me out with some tickets for you dear reader. I appreciate this is all a bit self-serving, but as I see it, it's a win-win situation, everyone benefits: we get to see the film and assuming it lives up to the hype, Pixar will get even more decent PR out of it (even if they do insist on the phonetic sub-title, Rat-a-too-ee.)

I have yet to confirm the date of the screening but it will be sometime in the next couple of weeks and will take place in central London. At the moment I have twelve tickets I can offer up, so I'll do it on a first come, first served basis. If there is a lot of interest, I'll see if I can get hold of any more tickets. If you want to come along, leave a comment below or email me and to spread the love as widely as possible, there are no more than two tickets per person.

If you want a taster of the film, see below.

16 August 2007

Khymos blog

It seems to be new blog Thursday.

Thanks to World Champion Barista James author of Jim Seven, I have discovered Khymos a blog dedicated to molecular gastronomy. I have also discovered that there are a whole host of other blogs dedicated to the subject.

Although the term molecular gastronomy might be so last season, Khymos is all about the chemistry of food. For those of us who rely on McGee and This, we can learn a lot from Martin Lersch, the blog's author.

We can also thank him for the recipe collection he has compiled of hydrocolloids - substances that form gels on contact with water. The collection is broken down according to the gelling agent (agar agar, gelatin etc) and includes recipes from a number of blogs, books and online sources. Looks like fascinating and informative stuff for us geeks.

Valvona & Crolla's blog

Whilst I was researching my olive oil post, I discovered that the team at Valvona & Crolla have started blogging.  Or maybe that should be they have stopped blogging.  They started in March but came to a grinding halt at the end of June.

Valvona & Crolla is a world famous, and long established Italian deli in Edinburgh.  I've never been but have only heard good things about the bounty that sits within its four walls.  They would be an intriguing addition to the food blogging world so I hope they restart.  But if they do, they really must stop linking every ingredients to their online store.  On the harder to source items, fair enough, but linking to Maldon salt in a bread recipe, is more than a little patronising and mercenary.

Despite such etiquette issues, I like the idea of seeing their forthcoming book develop on-line.  As a source of produce and knowledge, they are not far off being unrivalled.

15 August 2007

Olive oil, the slippery slope

Michael is a friend who works for Enotria, a leading UK vintner and lives near me. As I walk past his flat, I am regularly forced to duck as a low flying and weighty, wine catalogue comes spinning towards my head. A week ago however he had something new for me, a bottle of extra virgin olive oil.

Some time ago he had mentioned that he supplies Planeta olive oil and like the whining brat I am, I asked him to get hold of some for me. As good as his word he did and I should say, he very kindly gave it to me, refusing my imprecations to pay him.

Planeta is very special stuff. As you will see from their website, their extra-virgin oil received DOP status for the 2006 pressing (my bottle is 2005), only further proof that this stuff is special - or they have very good lobbyists in Brussels.

Planeta is from Sicily and looks as sun-scorched as the land - a deep mustard yellow colour. The smell and first taste is intensely grassy and herby, but this quickly gives way to a real peppery tingling on the back of my tongue. It is far more complex than Tuscan oils which some people describe as peppery. I think they are generally bitter, rather than peppery and quite nasty. With the Planeta, as the pepper subsides, the grassy flavour lingers.

I think it is so good, that I am sitting here writing this post, enjoying a nightcap of olive oil. Most shockingly of all, Silverbrowess is imbibing as well.

Planeta is not that easy to come by, thus my need for Mike, my olive oil dealer, but it is worth getting your hands on - even if it is almost £15 for 50cl.

Unfortunately, not all olive oils are as delightful as Planeta. There is a great article in last week's New Yorker on the adulteration of olive oil. According to the article, it is a crime that is virtually a pandemic in Puglia, Italy's largest olive oil producing region. I was surprised by some of the big names implicated and it made me wonder whether bog standard olive oil is any better than Castrol GTX. I guess that means it is Planeta only for chez Silverbrow from here on in.

14 August 2007

Silverbrow - redrawn

One of my oldest friends, who made his millions in the dot-com boom, bought me a couple of fantastic presents for my recent birthday. He was also responsible for the one present that brought the biggest laughs. Thanks Nic.

13 August 2007

Ristorante Semplice

If I am ever asked which is my favourite restaurant I invariably answer Locanda Locatelli, the food is great, the service excellent, there's an interesting wine list and there's a touch of glam thrown in for good measure. I also, perversely, quite like the fact that it is situated in a rather naff hotel.

I thought that with the chef and maitre d' coming from Locanda Locatelli, Ristorante Semplice could not fail to please. Especially if the name was a further give-away to its intentions. But Semplice is a warning that we should never forget that hoary cliche: simple is as simple does.

It is with a heavy heart that I report that this place does not do simple and does not do justice to Sr Locatelli. Most of all it does not do seasoning. Pretty much everything I tasted could have done with a more assurred and generous hand in the kitchen.

I started with a ravioli stuffed with aubergine, tomatoes and mozzarella. With a name like Semplice I assumed they would keep things simple and use the best ingredients. Fay Maschler makes much of the imported mozzarella. This dish was not the best Italy has to offer. It was pretty bland. The same was true, in my opinion of Silverbrowess' salad of artichoke, rocket and parmesan. For some bizarre reason the kitchen had cut off the stalks of the rocket and therefore removed the source of flavour. Thankfully not all the starters were quite so bland. The pesto filled gnocchi with beans and pine kernels was delicious. It was a bit more spongy than most gnocchi and looked closer to ravioli than gnocchi. But the flavour was good, subtle yes, but good nonetheless.

My main of cod filet (shh don't tell anyone), beetroot sauce, baby spinach salad with hazelnuts was dull in the extreme. The fish was horribly overcooked and lacked any flavour, making my guilt that I was eating this verboten fish all the worse. Then again, the chef was the one who should have felt guilty, he put it on the menu and he knackered it in the frying pan. As a composite, the dish had virtually no flavour, what there was came from the toasted hazelnuts. Silverbrowess had john dory with artichokes, new potatoes and plum tomatoes. The fish itself tasted pretty good, but the sauce was no better than you would get at any number of non-descript restaurants on the Med. A particular low point for me was the ice-cream at dessert. When I asked the waiter, who sounded Italian, whether it was ice-cream or gelato he looked at me blankly and told me it was ice-cream. Questions don't come much simpler and for an Italian restaurant claiming to do the simple things, I would have thought there was only one answer. Not no answer.

None of this was simple food, fantastic ingredients, cooked brilliantly. Or at least that was my opinion. For fairness' sake I do have to 'fess up that the other three around the table really enjoyed their meals and thought it was a perfectly good meal. That in itself is pretty damning praise given the provenance of both the front of house and kitchen staff.

Google Maps
Google Earth (download)

Ristorante Semplice, 10 Blenheim Street, London, W1S 1LJ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7495 1509

What others think

Squaremeal - Dishes, meanwhile, may be simple in presentation but are based on exemplary produce, carefully handled to extract maximum flavour.
Metro - My chestnut pannacotta is actively duff: heavy, granular, bland, like eating porridge in aspic.
The Guardian - All three starters were sparkling...The main courses, however, were unimpeachably mediocre.

06 August 2007

Claudia Roden podcast

I was delighted to be able to speak tonight to Claudia Roden. She is an exceptionally friendly and gracious lady who has a fantastic knowledge and love of the food she writes about.

Listen to the podcast to learn about Claudia's next book on the food world's favourite country; to hear what happened when Irish and Jewish cuisines mingled the East End and why I can thank the marketing nous of doyens (sic?) Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson for one of my favourite cookbooks.

Click below to listen.