Saturday, 17 June 2017

Lisbon Highlights

Jacaranda Tree in Lisbon

When you live in London, as I do, you never take it for granted when you wake up in another city each morning to sunny skies.  Lisbon is one of my cities of choice for banishing the grey and revelling in the blue.  The Jacaranda trees were at their best on our visit, highlighting just how much the few trees I know of in London struggle with our climate.  The scent released from the flowers is so much stronger too.  You don't have to go to the Jardim do Botanico to see these in Lisbon - which is just as well as it's currently undergoing some much needed tlc - Jacaranda trees are everywhere.  I've written about Lisbon before (links below) so I'll keep this brief and mostly about eating and drinking.

Street view from Garrafeira Alfaia, Lisbon

For a glass of good Portuguese wine from an extensive selection of regional wines by the glass (copo)  or bottle in a typical Lisbon-style bar head for the Bairro Alto and the tiny Garrafeira Alfaia at Rua Diário de Notícias, 125.  You can get a few small plates of food here too including expertly carved Pata Negra and Portuguese cheeses.  There's a recently opened small restaurant across the street which has the same owner.  We didn't need it on this trip but just down the street at No 83 is The Old Pharmacy which came recommended for wine and small plates.

For fresh shellfish, everyone goes to Cerverjaria Ramiro but 20 minutes in a hot, crowded holding pen with a token-operated beer tap on the steamiest of nights (no the water misters didn't help) was enough to send us hot-footing it to Sol e Pesca.  This tiny unchanging former fishing tackle shop still hits the spot when all you want is a cold Super Bock beer, or glass of Vinho Verde, a few plates of quality tinned fish and a basket of bread.  Close to the heaving Cais do Sodré riverside in Baixa-Chiado, we found the young, energetic staff as welcoming as ever.

Meeting up with a friend one night we headed to Bairro do Avillez in Chiado for a late dinner. Owned by Chef José Avillez, who has two Michelin stars at his Belcanto restaurant, it sounded promising.  There is more than one style of restaurant in this Avillez complex on Rua Nova da Trinidad.  We ate at the Taberna which was buzzy and, once again, you needed to be patient.  We were, but was it worth the wait?  Small dishes of XL Exploding Olives and Spicy Pork Skin "Popcorn" were less exciting than they sound.  I chose pretty well with a dish of Salt Cod with a Chorizo Crumb and onion cream, and the Douro wine was delicious, but a Tuna Steak looked overcooked, and Pluma Alentejano definitely was.  The bill for three came to around Euros 80. Maybe the Pateo, which specialises in fish and seafood would have suited us better but it wasn't offered.  Neither did we qualify for the walk down the "hidden passageway" to Beco - Gourmet Cabaret.  I notice the dress code is "casual chic" and the atmosphere "exclusive, bohemian and sophisticated"!  If that's what you want, you'll need to book.

We lunched on plump, fresh Sardinhas at old Lisbon-style Marisqueira O Palácio in Largo de Alcântara.  It's very simple and traditional.  You'll be lunching with locals, and it's value for money - less than Euros 30 including service for two for starters and main plus coffee - and you won't leave hungry.

Carapau (Atlantic Horse Mackerel)
at Horacio e Teresa's, Mercado de Alvalade Norte, Lisbon

Our best lunch came thanks to a trip to Mercado de Alvalade Norte, the local food market in the north of the city.  After watching a magnificent Atum (Tuna) being expertly 'butchered', we found Horacio e Teresa's fish stall displaying beautiful Linguado (Sole), large Peixe Galo (John Dory) and Tamboril (Monkfish) proudly offered with their liver intact to show freshness.  Who better to ask where to lunch on fresh, simply cooked fish?  A place they supply, of course.

Linguado at 
Restaurante Grelha Dom Feijao, Lisbon

And so we arrived at Restaurante Grelha Dom Feijão, about 15 minutes walk south on Avenida de Roma.  Don't be put off by the  commercial location.  Walk up to the first floor and you'll find the restaurant with a peaceful outside terrace well populated by locals and business people.  Get there early or book for an outside table.  The menu is not in English but the staff will help you.  The usual house dishes, always brought to table for eating or rejecting, are not to be ignored here - melting Beef Croquettes, crisp pastry Chicken Pies, excellent olives and bread. Whole grilled Sole (that Linguado) served with bitter greens, broccoli and particularly good potatoes, both plain boiled and baked in their skins with olive oil and salt.  A bottle of completely delicious house wine, Monte Velho from Alentejo, and Espresso to finish brought the bill to Euros 54 for two.  Great value for money and a place I'd definitely go back to.

Pasteis de Nata
at Cafe Manteigaria

There was Pasteis de Nata, of course, and no need to go out to Belem specially for them this time. Cafe Manteigaria in Chiado bakes on the premises from 08.00-24.00.  There's a stretch of stand-up bar where you can watch the bakers make the custard tarts while you eat one still warm from the oven.  Now, if they could only get the coffee right it would be perfect.

Sorry, but good coffee is important to me and this time we found it in Lisbon at Copenhagen Coffee Lab Lisbon.  I make no apologies for it not being Portuguese, though our love of this find could partly be explained by our discovery of a former Monmouth Coffee manager serving up the shots expertly.  This is also a great place for breakfast when you just can't take another Pasteis de Nata, however good.  You'll find it on Rua Nova Piedade, mid-way between the Museu Nacional de Historia Natural e de Ciencia/Jardim Botanico and Praça São Bento.  

Street Tiling

Tiling is hard to ignore in Lisbon and if you have the slightest interest then head for the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (tile museum) in the cloister of a 14th century convent to see a collection going back five centuries.  We didn't take the tram to Belem on this visit but if you haven't been, you should go for the spectacular UNESCO listed Mosteiro dos Jeronimos; the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument, built to honour Portugal's great explorers, and Museo Coleccao Berardo Belem for the collection of modern art.  While there you'd have to try the Pasteis de Nata at Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, though it is much more of a tourist attraction these days than it used to be.

Artwork by Maria José Oliveira
at Sociedade Nacional De Belas-Artes, Lisbon

Interesting temporary exhibitions may be found at the Sociedade Nacional De Belas-Artes on the Rua Barata Salgueiro, just off the Avenida de Liberdade where we saw 40 Anos de Trabalho by Maria José Oliveira and por entre arvores a linked exhibition of ink drawings by Carol Archer and image and text works by Kit Kelen.

Detail of 'Peacock and Hunting Trophies' by J Weenix 1708
at Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
Above all, find time for the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian close to Praça de Espanha.  A fine way to end a visit to Lisbon - just allow enough time for this one.

Trams on Elevador da Gloria, Lisbon

Places we didn't get to on this visit and wish we had:
A Taberna da Rua das Flores in Chiado/Cais do Sodré.  We went five years ago and such is its popularity now we have never been able to get back in.  Book ahead or be prepared for a long wait.
Tagide Restaurant and Tagide Wine & Tapas in Chiado - because everybody mentions them.
Bairro Alto Hotel Rooftop Bar - for the views.

We did finally go to LX Factory in Alcantara (on the way to Belem) and were disappointed to find it was, to our eyes, less about artisan makers than it was about places to hang out.  Lots of eating and drinking opportunities here.  If you like the atmosphere of Ropewalk in London's Bermondsey ('Maltby Street Market'), this may appeal.

Link to Previous Lisbon Post:
Lisbon - Autumn 2015
Lisbon - Summer 2012

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Cheesemongers of London - Sorting your Cardo from your Coolea

Oak bowl by Robert Thompson
The 'Mouseman" of Kilburn

It's not difficult to buy cheese in London.  It's not difficult to buy good cheese in London.  But it wasn't always so and you still need to sort your Cardo from your Coolea.

Cardo: a washed-rind goat's cheese made by Mary Holbrook in Somerset;
The supple, glossy paste is typically chalkier, curdier at core; 
floral flavours are cut with a vegetal bitterness. The rind is savoury and rich; 
texture is toothsome, sometimes with pleasant crystalline crunch.  
Cardoon stamen infusion.  Source: Neal's Yard Dairy

In the Victorian era, cheesemongers were as common on the London high street as butchers, bakers, and greengrocers.  Two World Wars and the rush for mass production to feed a post-war population brought cheesemaking to a rubbery, tasteless low.  Patrick Rance wrote of the depths most British cheese had sunk to by 1982 in his The Great British Cheese Book.  "Good cheese has been almost killed by lack of understanding and care among politicians, bureaucrats, dairymen and retailers.  It can only be raised back to health by a professional, indeed a vocational, attitude in those who wish to put things right and make their living by doing so."  From his little cheese shop in Streatley, Berkshire, which he set up in 1954 (closed in 1990), his words were a rallying call to those who cared about our cheesemaking history.

Patrick Rance's book appeared 3 years after the formation of Neal's Yard Dairy, where in 1979 a small group of enthusiasts began making yogurt and soft cheeses at their Covent Garden base.  The early results weren't always a success so they bought in the best cheeses they could get from wholesalers to re-sell alongside their experimental cheeses.  Then cheesemaker Hilary Charnley sent them a 'Devon Garland', a Caerphilly-style cheese, to try.  Its flavour and character were so different from what they had been buying that Randolph Hodgson, who by then owned Neal's Yard Dairy, drove down to Devon to see why.  What he found was a small-scale, independent, traditional cheesemaker of a kind that had all but disappeared.  Her introductions to a few other artisan cheesemakers nearby made it feasible for Hodgson to make regular visits to the producers, select the cheeses he wanted, transport them back to London, mature them and sell them to appreciative customers.  Hodgson's subsequent formation of the Specialist Cheesemakers Association proved vital in successfully countering Whitehall and EU misinformation about safety in cheese production, and halting the mass Americanisation of our farmhouse cheese production.

I worked for a short while at Neal's Yard Dairy and I can't recommend enough this champion (saviour, in fact) of British farmhouse cheeses. Thanks to that education, I know a little bit about what it takes to care for the lovingly produced cow's, ewe's and goat's milk cheeses in all their hard, semi-hard, soft, washed and blue glory.  So I think, a few recommendations for my fellow cheese-lovers in London, whether you live here or are just visiting, is long overdue.  This list is not definitive but is based on my own experience.  To buy the best cheeses that have been carefully selected, knowledgeably handled and offered in peak condition, you have to find who truly knows their Cardo from their Coolea.

Neal's Yard Dairy

First up has to be Neal's Yard Dairy.  Their focus continues to be on supporting the makers of farm cheese and produce in the British Isles, with a particular passion for unpasteurised and raw milk cheeses. They still, as they have done since the early 1980's, make regular buying trips to the makers.  These days, maturing is carried out in south London railway arches.  Their tiny Covent Garden shop is only a few paces from the original premises used back at the birth of the business, but there is a larger shop alongside Borough Market.  This is the shop that will open your eyes to how good British dairy produce can be.  They also run a great series of Cheese Tasting Classes. Most good cheese shops and many restaurants in the UK, and beyond, source their British cheeses from Neal's Yard Dairy.
LOCATIONS: 17 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden WC2 & 6 Park Street, (Borough Market) SE1
They also open Saturday 9-2pm at Spa Terminus, Bermondsey SE16.  On-line ordering too.

Gour Noir Raw Goat's milk cheese
at Mons Cheesemongers

The British arm of the French company Mons Cheesemongers was set up in 2006 by two ex-Neal's Yard Dairy staff.  In France, Hubert Mons had started his business by sourcing artisanal cheeses for his market stall in the Auvergne region of France in the early 1960's.  From maturing rooms in St Haon le Chatel in the Cote Roannaise comes traditionally made French and Swiss cheeses to feed an appreciate London market. A number of good cheese shops and restaurants in the UK buy their French cheeses from Mons Cheesemongers.
LOCATIONS: Borough Market, SE1; Brockley Market on Saturdays; Spa Terminus, Bermondsey SE1 on Saturdays.  New shop soon to open in East Dulwich.

London Cheesemongers
Pavilion Road, Chelsea

If you were in any doubt of the good done by Neal's Yard Dairy to the cheese world, you just have to look at the people who have set up these independent businesses (not to mention those who have gone on to make cheese).  Jared Wybrow of London Cheesemongers is another of the alumni. Late last year he added to his London market stall portfolio with a shop in Chelsea.  Jared's many years spent at Neal's Yard Dairy, where he ran their 'Markets', is clear to see in the attention to detail in this exemplary cheesemonger.  Here the focus is on sourcing a small but perfectly formed selection of British, French and Italian cheeses and other dairy produce for a West London clientele. The upstairs room at Pavilion Road hosts events and offers cheese lunches on Saturdays providing an opportunity to get to know the cheeses and take a break from shopping.
LOCATIONS: Shop at 251 Pavilion Road SW1.  Saturdays at Hildreth Street Market, Balham SW12; Sundays Herne Hill Farmer's Market SE24,

Cheese by Patricia Michelson

Patricia Michelson opened her shop, La Fromagerie, in Highbury Park in 1992 and a second in Marylebone in 2002.  Both feature maturing cellars and walk-in cheese rooms.  Patricia's knowledge and passion for cheese is well known and I remember my own excitement at discovering her little cheese cave in the original Highbury shop at a time when it was not so easy to buy good French cheeses in London.  Both of the shops also offer a range of foods and feature cafes and while the Marylebone premises can feel cramped, the walk-in cheese room can feel like a calm oasis amongst the bustle.  Michelson's book Cheese, published in 2010, covers 450 varieties from around the world, the importance of terroir and information on storing, cutting and serving them. La Fromagerie also has a wide-ranging Events schedule.
LOCATIONS: Shops at Higbury N5 and Marylebone W1

KaseSwiss cheeses

KaseSwiss, although primarily a wholesaler of cheeses, qualifies for my favourites list as it opens for retail each Saturday at Spa Terminus in Bermondsey SE16.  Owner Rachael Sills founded Kaseswiss in 2005 after 10 years with Neal's Yard Dairy and focusses on selecting and showcasing traditional artisan made cheeses from Switzerland.  She also sells a select range of hand-made unpasteurised milk, small-batch Dutch cheeses for sister company Boerenkaas,
LOCATION: Arch 5, Voyager Estate South, Bermondsey SE16 4RP (Saturdays 9am - 2pm)

I must mention a couple of small London Cheesemongers who sell only cheeses they make themselves.  And what cheeses they are:

Bermondsey Hard Pressed

When William Oglethorpe began making cheese in his railway arch in south London in 2008 it seemed an unlikely location for a dairy but it provides a perfect space and maturing conditions for the cheeses he produces at Kappacasein Dairy.  Collecting raw organic cow's milk during the morning's milking from a farm in Kent and starting the cheese-making process within 2 hours of collection is a vital part of the cheesemaking approach here.  Making the curd in a 600L copper vat with minimum interventions adds to Kappacasein's commitment to bringing out the best qualities of the milk used.  What comes out of the arch is Bermondsey Hard Pressed, a traditional Alpage Gruyere type; Bermondsey Frier, made to an Italian Formaggio Cotto recipe; a cow's milk Ricotta; and a traditional Pot Set Yoghurt.
LOCATION: Arch 1, Voyager Estate South, Bermondsey SE16 4RP (Saturdays 9am - 2pm).  You will also find Kappacasein at Borough Market where you can enjoy the best cheese toastie in London.

A matured Edmund Tew cheese from
Blackwoods Cheese Company

Blackwoods Cheese Company was founded in summer 2013 to make raw milk soft cow's cheeses using as little intervention as possible.  Collecting their milk supplies from a trusted Kent farm as milking was taking place then transporting it back to their Brockley cheesemaking base. Last year, helped by Crowdfunding, they relocated their base to nearby Chiddingstone, Kent to be closer to the source of their milk.   Cheeses are currently Graceburn, a Persian Feta style cheese; Blackwood's Cow's Curd, a fresh lactic cheese; Edmund Tew (the first in their convict series - see website!), a small lactic cow's cheese that develops a Geotrichum rind and a savoury malty flavour; and William Heaps, a fresh, lactic cow's cheese.  It's useful to know that Blackwood's is also a supplier of Whey.
LOCATIONS: Brockley Market and Borough Market and various shops in London.

Other Cheesemongers in London of note:
Paxton & Whitfield
LOCATIONS: Shops at 93 Jermyn Street W1; 22 Cale Street, SW3; and a small number of stores outside London

LOCATION: Shop at 10a Lamb Street E1 (Old Spitalfields Market).

Coolea: A pasteurised cow's milk hard cheese made by Dick Willems in County Cork; 
The flavours are sweet and rich with hints of hazelnut, butterscotch and honey.
Smooth and close in texture, reminiscent of Dutch Gouda.    Animal Rennet. 
Source: Neal's Yard Dairy

I wonder what Patrick Rance would make of things now?

Friday, 21 April 2017

In praise of warm salads

A Warm Salad of Broad Beans

I'm writing about salad.  Risky, I know.  Who needs to be told how to make a salad?  But I like to cook with the seasons and this is the kind of thing I put on the table at this time of year so here we are.

Now, when days can be sunny and warm and full of promise of summer to come, temperatures can still plummet at night.  We growers eye our early spring sowings nervously and hope Jack Frost stays away.  In the shops there are early new potatoes from Jersey and France.  Our own broad beans are just beginning to sprout but the Italians have sent over a welcome taste of their early crops.  The organised have salad leaves growing undercover.  It's the perfect time to move on to what I think of as 'warm salads'.  The basics are an ever-changing succession of leaves with warm, waxy potatoes, vinaigrette dressings, sometimes with the addition of herbs or mustards.  Broad beans or Asparagus kick off the season, moving on to peas, French beans and Runner Beans.  A little protein comes in the form of bacon, pancetta, chorizo, smoked trout or anchovy.  Seasonal food with still a little warmth in it, the salad leaf wilting slightly in the agreeable embrace of the other ingredients.  And now we've started, we'll be eating warm salads right through to autumn.

Broad Bean Plant illustration by Patricia Curtan
in my copy of Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters

The Broad Bean, Vicia faba, also known as the Fava bean, has been cultivated and eaten in Europe for at least 5,000 years.  It was the original 'bean' until other varieties arrived from the New World causing it to be then known as the 'Broad Bean' for its distinctive shape.  Broad Beans grow well in cool damp climates so the English spring offers perfect growing conditions for them.  When the pods grow to around 5cm they can be cooked and eaten whole.  Any larger and the casing needs to be discarded and the beans eaten either raw or cooked.  When the beans get bigger than a thumb nail the pale grey-green outer casing can become tough and indigestible so they need to be cooked and slipped out of their coats to reveal their pea-green inner.  At the end of their season they become mealy but are still good cooked, mashed to a puree and seasoned with lemon, herbs, olive oil and salt. Good herbs to use with Broad Beans are chervil, mint, dill or tarragon.

In Italy and France at this time very small, young broad beans are cooked whole in their pods and tossed in butter and herbs.  In Italy in Spring, raw broad beans are podded at the table and served with a salty local cheese - in Rome a pungent Pecorino, in Sardinia a ewe's milk ricotta called Marzotica.  In Spain, The Catalans have Fabes a la Catalana, a dish that marries broad beans (fabes) with black pudding, or other sausage or slices of pork fat. The Portuguese cook Favas Guisadasa stew of Broad Beans and Chourico sausage.  

Having picked up Patience Gray's Honey from a Weed in search of wise words on Beans, I'm thankful I chose to write about fresh, not dried, Beans.  A reading of her chapter on Beans, Peas and Rustic Soups is rewarding on the subject of 'beans make you fart'  I'm sorry, but this appeals to the English sense of humour so, having found it, I have to offer you this sentence  "... every cook will recall his/her favourite fartiste .... but I would like to put in a word for Papa Galeazzo, the 17th century priest who once stole the 'stopper' used by the Baroness of Lucugnano in the Salento on festive occasions, replacing it artfully with a bird whistle to startling effect in the country dance."

That gem alone justifies this posting, I think!  So here comes a fresh Broad Bean version of a warm salad - Italian beans for me right now as my own plants stand a mere 12cm high.  Broad Beans have a particular affinity with bacon so that's my choice with a peppery rocket.  It's worth knowing that 1 kg of pods yields around 300g of beans, but salads don't require exactitude, which is another reason to like them.

A warm salad of Broad Beans
(serves 4)

1 kg Broad Bean Pods (around 300g podded beans)
800g waxy potatoes
200g streaky bacon or pancetta
2 good handfuls of rocket (or other salad leaf)
2 tablespoons lemon juice or Moscatel vinegar
Salt and pepper
1 good teaspoon of Dijon mustard, if using
6-7 tablespoons Olive Oil

Wash the potatoes (skin on or off, as you prefer) and boil for c. 20 minutes until cooked
Pod the broad beans, wash and boil in salted water until just cooked - 1-2 mins for small beans.  Drain and plunge into cold water to retain the colour.
Cut the bacon into small pieces and fry in a hot pan until crisp.
Mix your vinaigrette in a large serving bowl.
Drain and slice the potatoes thickly before adding them to the dressing.  Add the cooked broad beans, the bacon (including the cooking fat), and the rocket/salad leaf.  Stir gently but well and serve.

If you grow your own Broad Beans, remember to nip out the top few centimetres once they are fully in flower.  This will discourage black fly from colonising the fleshy top-growth and encourage the plant to put its energy into the beans rather than growing taller.  You can cook and eat the pinched-out tops just as you would spinach.