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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Learning All About Activated Charcoal Flour

Words & Photography by Caroline Ghera and Luiz Hara

Name: Flour Power Masterclass at Pizzicotto 

Where: 267, Kensington High Street, W8 6NA, www.pizzicotto.co.uk

Cost: Flour Power Masterclass costs £50 per person, and will run from 28th June 2016 from 18:30 for 1½ hours.

About: The Flour Power Masterclass at Pizzocotto is a fun introduction to the more unusual types of flour including activated charcoal, chestnut and buckwheat flour, used to prepare a range of dishes and pizze, which participants will cook and eat at the end of the class. This feature describes a Flour Power Masterclass I attended recently and the dishes we prepared.


Pizzicotto is the second restaurant by the Chiavarini family who have run the popular Il Portico only a few doors away for 50 years on Kensington High Street. Like its sister restaurant, Pizzicotto is a relaxed neighbourhood restaurant drawing on the family heritage of Emilia Romagna and a small network of regional Slow Food and artisanal producers who supply the restaurant exclusively.


For the first half of our class we were introduced to the basics of pizza making by Pizzicotto's head pizzaiolo, Andrea. We learned that the wood-burning oven’s domed shape helped to evenly distribute the heat (425C), while the mixture of beech and larger burning logs adds a touch of moisture into the oven preventing the pizza from becoming too dry.


We were shown how to stretch the soft dough (made with a mix of semolina, rice and corn flours) into pizze, topping them with tomato and mozzarella for a Margherita pizza. The white dough had been proved for a staggering 72 hours (it is usually 24 hours in a good pizza restaurant). The result was an extremely light base, with a blistered crust and an airy texture when cut.


Using the same white dough, we later also savoured the Spacca Napoli Pizza, topped with anchovies, mozzarella, olives and capers, which was deliciously salty and with a hint of chilli and garlic.


A variation on a theme was the introduction of creamed asparagus to the plain white dough, to create a green, slightly softer textured pizza base. Topped with tomatoes, rocket and mozzarella, this was my favourite pizza dough, the delicate but distinctive flavour of asparagus adding a delicious touch to the faintly green crust.


Our last dough used activated charcoal flour, a striking black powder which had been added to the blended white dough and left to prove for 48 hours. Pizzicotto is championing the use of vegetable charcoal, an extremely porous ingredient which has the ability to draw toxins from the body in a process named adsorption. Being insoluble, activated charcoal is then eliminated from the body, flushing those toxins away. Activated charcoal is supposed to aid digestion, lower cholesterol, improve skin and has even been claimed to be a cure for hangover, though that has not as yet been scientifically proven. Its main medicinal use is to prevent the absorption of medicines taken in accidental overdoses, from the stomach and intestines into the blood stream.


Our charcoal pizzas were topped with mozzarella, spicy sausage, rocket and tomatoes. Despite their dark coloured bases, the addition of charcoal was not noticeable in taste. Having been proved for 48 hours, the dough had a finer texture but was extremely light, definitely worth trying for its potential health benefits without any compromise on taste. 

The second half of our Flour Masterclass was taught by Pizzicotto's head chef, Marianna Giglio, and focused on pasta. Starting off with 00 flour, an Italian stone ground flour where the bran and germ are extracted after milling to produce a finer, whiter flour, which is also richer in nutrients than its English counterpart.


The dough was rolled into a thin sheet and cut into irregular shaped ribbons (known in Italian as maltagliati). The handmade pasta was later served with a delicious beef ragu, a simple but wonderful dish due to the sheer high quality of ingredients and the freshness of the handmade pasta. This was my favourite dish of the evening.


We moved on to use chestnut flour, an expensive autumnal speciality from Piedmont. We kneaded the chestnut flour with a touch of 00 flour, Parmesan and ricotta to make gnocchi.

The gnocchi were served with butternut squash, mushrooms, Parmesan and a reduced red wine jus. This was a hearty autumnal dish, and while I enjoyed the delicate flavour of the chestnut flour gnocci, I felt they were rather overwhelmed by the squash and mushrooms, and would be better appreciated on their own with a little butter and Parmesan.

The practical side of the masterclass ended with the use of gluten-free buckwheat flour to produce a dough that was again rolled into a thin sheet and cut into triangles. The pasta had a distinctive texture and was served with a delectable mixture of spring vegetables. This was a good option on the menu for gluten-free diners.


After the masterclass, we finally sat down to enjoy our creations. Our evening came to an end with a dessert pizza with a Nutella-stuffed crust, topped with custard cream, more Nutella, thin ribbons of green apple, grapes and raspberries.


Likes: I enjoyed learning how to cook with new flours at Pizzicotto, particularly the striking activated charcoal flour, the mixture of flours used in their white dough, and the 72 hour proofing.

Dislikes: While I thoroughly enjoyed the class, I wish the black charcoal flour pizza as well as the other dishes we learned were available on the restaurant menu. Unfortunately these are only available for participants in the flour masterclass.

Verdict: This is a great opportunity to learn about different Italian flours, and to increase the repertoire of ingredients in your Italian cooking. Recommended.


Friday, 10 June 2016

Gonzalez Byass Sherry Feast Menu at Morito


Name: Gonzalez Byass and Morito

Where: Morito, 32 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QE, http://morito.co.uk/

Cost: £50 per person including 6 courses of 9 tapas dishes, accompanying sherries and service. The menu is available only on Sundays, with sittings at 5pm and 7.30pm.

About: Gonzalez Byass has teamed up with Morito, one of my favourite tapas bars in London (reviewed here), to create a Morito Sherry Feast Menu.


Designed to highlight Gonzalez Byass’ range of Spanish sherries from Fino to Pedro Ximenez, with some top notch tapas.


What We Ate and Drank: The menu kicks off with a glass of Tio Pepe Fino. Pale gold in colour, with savoury aromas, this is bone dry, crisp and light in body. Traditionally partnered with salted almonds, at Morito it was served with 4 different tapas including marinated olives, smoked Marcona almonds and a delicious pan con tomate (sourdough bread topped with chopped tomatoes, avocado and anchovy).


The fino was also served with some heartier starters including a delectable clams with grilled leeks, parsley and garlic, and baked bacalhao (salted cod) with potatoes, thyme and paprika.


Next came a glass of Tio Pepe Fino 'En Rama'. Bottled unfiltered and unclarified, this sherry is about as close as you can get in London to drinking the sherry straight from the cask. Pale gold, it had a richer, more complex nose than the Fino, and was served with a generous tuna confit in olive oil and sweet onions.


Amontillado sherries are allowed some contact with air to give partial oxidation during their maturation, and Gonzalez Byass 'Del Duque' , aged for 30 years through the solera system, was no exception. With a rich amber colour, caramel and creamy vanilla aromas, this was a superb dry sherry. Morito partnered it with a delicious dish of seared oyster mushrooms with pancetta Iberica, fresh oregano and Marcona almonds. My favourite dish of the evening.


Next up was a glass of Palo Cortado. These sherries are initially aged under a layer of 'flor' yeast, which imparts a savoury character, but then the yeast is removed to permit a degree of oxidation. The 30 year old Apostales Palo Cortado was a deep amber colour, with aromas of dried fruits, cedar and caramel. Showing great depth of flavour and concentration, this delicious sherry was served with charcoal-grilled horn peppers and secreto Iberico - a particularly succulent cut of Iberico pork (solely fed on acorns, giving the meat a deliciously marbled, nutty quality).


Moving on to the sweeter end of the sherry spectrum, in which Pedro Ximenez (PX) grapes are used in addition to the Palomino varietal, the penultimate wine was a magnificent Matusalem Oloroso Dulce. Aged for over 30 years, this luscious sherry had sweet raisin and fig flavours, balanced by savoury Oloroso characteristics of spice and candied peel, giving a drink of great complexity.  This was expertly matched with a couple of fine Spanish cheeses – Romero (a goats cheese from Murcia) and Picos de Europa (a bold and salty blue cheese from Castile-Leon). The combination of sweet sherry and salty cheese was delicious, and one I look forward to trying again at home.


Finally, with Morito's deliciously simple signature dessert of Malaga raisin ice cream, we were served a glass of Noe – 100% PX. Again aged for 30 years, this viscous sherry had a deep brown colour, and flavours of dried fruit, spice and treacle. Sweet and richly complex, this was a great end to the meal. Despite its age and pedigree, I poured a little over the ice cream and it made an excellent partner.  I was surprised by the freshness of this PX – it was not cloyingly sweet as so many can be, and this reflected the long oak-aging of the sherry.


Morito has a fine spread of sherries on its regular drinks list, including fino, manzanilla, amontillado, palo cortado, oloroso and pedro ximenez options, so it is well worth dropping in to try them. 

Likes: It was great to try the full range of sherries from the driest to the sweetest in one meal. I loved the Tio Pepe with baked salted cod, the Spanish cheeses with sweet Oloroso, and the sweet but refreshing Pedro Ximenez over the Malaga raisin ice cream.  

Dislikes: I love Morito on Exmouth Market but we hardly had space to breath in it!

Verdict: Every time I drink sherry, I think I should have it more often. There is such a spectrum of flavours and it is an ideal partner to Spanish and Japanese food, as well as other cuisines. Recommended. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

San Pellegrino's 'Live in Italian' Dinners by Four of London's Best Chefs at Harvey Nichols


This summer from the 10th July to the 7th August 2016, San Pellegrino will be hosting four dinners themed ‘Live in Italian’ at Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor, which will be transformed into an Italian alfresco terrace for the occasions.

Resident ‘Live in Italian’ chefs Ollie Dabbous of Dabbous, Theo Randall of Theo Randall, James Lowe of Lyles and Alyn Williams of The Westbury will each host every Tuesday of the takeover. The chefs will create a 4-course menu with Italian influence, accompanied by S.Pellegrino and Italian wines.


Tickets for the S. Pellegrino ‘Live in Italian’ dinners cost £40 (plus £2 booking fee) per person and can be purchased online at https://billetto.co.uk/en/events/spellegrino-presents-live-in-italian. This is the line up:

12th July, 7pm: Ollie Dabbous (7pm)

This is the one I signed up to, so do say hello if you come to this! 

Ollie Dabbous: The founder of Fitzrovia’s celebrated Dabbous, Ollie Dabbous, will bring his innovative take on modern European cuisine and unique style to the S.Pellegrino ‘Live in Italian’ Terrace on the 12th July at Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor. 

19th July, 7pm: Theo Randall

Theo Randall: Naming Italy ‘his favourite place to eat in the world,’ and renowned for his simple, rustic, Italian cuisine, Theo Randall will bring his relaxed approach to fine dining to the occasion.


26th July, 7pm: James Lowe

James Lowe: On Tuesday 26th July Lyles’ James Lowe will bring his focus on quality ingredients, charming service and love for entertaining to Harvey Nichols to remind guests what Italian dining is all about – an innovative menu worth crossing London for. 

2nd August, 7pm: Alyn Williams

Alyn Williams: Alyn Williams will bring his Michelin star and progressive, sophisticated cooking style to Harvey Nichols serving a brilliantly accomplished, playful menu.

Outside of these times, the S. Pellegrino ‘Live in Italian’ Terrace on the Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor will be open for lunch every day from the 10th July to the 7th August 2016, the menu will be curated by the Italian Supper Club.



For more information and to purchase tickets visit - https://billetto.co.uk/en/events/spellegrino-presents-live-in-italian

Monday, 6 June 2016

The Cherry Blossom Menu at Sake no Hana


Name: Sake no Hana

Where: 23 St James Street, London, SW1A 1HA, http://sakenohana.com/london/

Cost: The sakura menu costs £34 per person inclusive of a cocktail, miso soup, two bento boxes including sushi and sashimi and a hot  main course. Dessert is available for an additional £8.50.

About: Part of the fabulous Hakkasan Group, Sake no Hana's restaurant on swanky St James Street, in celebration of the Japanese cherry blossom season (sakura), is offering a special menu created by Head Chef Hideki Hiwatachi.


The sakura menu will be served until 18th June, and for the duration of the menu, the entire restaurant and bar are decked out in pretty cherry blossom, making for quite an atmospheric spot.


The menu is available at lunchtimes in the restaurant, while at dinner time it is served in the ground floor bar, and this was where we had our meal.

What We Ate: The menu kicked off with a steaming white miso soup with edamame bean tofu, spring onion and wakame seaweed. I enjoyed this soup – the dashi broth was well made and delicate while the addition of white miso gave it a delectable savour. I particularly enjoyed the nutty, jade-green edamame tofu cut in the shape of a lotus flower.


For our main courses, we ordered two different dishes to share. The chicken sumiyaki with spicy shichimi sauce was served in a perspex bento box with an accompanying green salad dressed with a citrus yuzu-pon dressing.


The grilled chicken was well flavoured and succulent, served alongside the spicy shichimi sauce made of sesame oil, soy sauce, Japanese 7-spices, garlic, ginger and a hint of wasabe.


The other main, also served bento style, was the seasonal vegetable tempura which included slices of pumpkin, onion, asparagus, aubergine and lotus root. Delectable though it was, unusually Sake no Hana's version uses breadcrumbs rather than the more traditional tempura (wheat) flour, so this was not tempura in the traditional sense.


Now onto the raw fish bento – a selection of sushi and sashimi – super-fresh slices of yellowtail, red tuna and salmon, were served chilled over ice and beautifully presented in a bamboo sake cup.


A delicious trio of nigiri sushi included fatty tuna, salmon with chopped wasabi and sweet shrimp. The vegetable shiso maki had crunchy okra with dried sweet plum, while a forth seabass nigiri was nattily dressed in an aromatic bamboo leaf.


Dessert is not included in the fixed price, but we could not resist the cherry chocolate sake mousse (£8.50). This had cherry chocolate and cherry sake mousses, chocolate crumble and sake jelly, glamorously served on a plate decorated with a green chocolate 'tree', with fresh cherries.


Vanilla macarons came filled with chocolate and green tea ganache (£1.80 each), and had a perfect crisp coating with an indulgently gooey centre.


What We Drank:  The cocktail on offer for the sakura menu is a Kaori Arpège, a heady and gorgeously presented mix of Beefeater 24 gin, yuzu sake, cherry liqueur, peach bitters, grapefruit juice and agave. It was served with a selection of 3 spray perfumes - cherry and cinnamon, jasmine and elderflower, and violet. Diners are invited to spray the perfume around the cocktail, one fragrance at a time, and savour the different flavours and aromas.


With our meal, we shared a small carafe of Kozaemon Sakura Junmai Ginjo sake (£18.80). A limited edition sake available only during sakura season, just a few hundred bottles are produced each year. Opalescent, off-dry with barley, savoury and meaty characteristics and a rich complex finish, this was rather like a top quality, long-aged amontillado sherry.


Likes: The cocktail, sushi and sashimi and desserts were delicious and gorgeously presented, and great to experience in the beautiful cherry blossom setting. 

Dislikes: During dinner service, the bar lacks a little atmosphere. 

Verdict: If you haven’t visited the fabulous Sake no Hana yet, the sakura menu at £34 is a great reason for doing so, and it will not break the bank. But rush because the menu ends on 18th June 2016. Recommended.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Where to Eat Israeli Food in London – The Palomar


Having just spent two weeks discovering the wonderful food scenes of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (see reviews here and here) as part of the 2016 Vibe Israel Food Tour, I was curious to discover whether some of those foodie experiences could also be found right here in the heart of London.

And so I recently headed to The Palomar, and my findings are written up below. If you would like to read more about my Israeli features including Eyal Shani’s recipe for Burnt Cauliflower, click here.

Name: The Palomar

Where: 34 Rupert Street, London W1 6DN, http://thepalomar.co.uk/

Cost: Average cost per person is £40, not including drinks. The raw bar offers cold starters including oysters, salmon and beef tartare from £8 to £16.50, while hot dishes range from £9.50 to £25. The recommendation is to order two to three dishes per person. 

About: The Palomar is the London outpost of a popular Israeli group of restaurants that owns the fabulous Machneyuda Restaurant in Jerusalem (see my review here). It serves the food of modern Jerusalem, with influences of Spain and North Africa.


Next to Chinatown just south of Shaftesbury Avenue, The Palomar  is a manically busy restaurant with two seating areas. At the zinc-topped bar overlooking the open-plan kitchen is a 16-seat counter where you can book from 5.30pm each day.


There is also a quieter 40-seat room towards the back of the restaurant with beautiful parquet floors, dark oak-paneled walls and blue leather banquettes, for which advanced bookings can be made.


We sat at the kitchen counter (which I thoroughly recommend), and had a brilliant time watching the chefs at work and talking to them as they plated.


The Palomar is a busy restaurant and noise levels are high, but it is fun and casual and the atmosphere resonated with what I had experienced in Israel. On our evening there, the head chef was Eyal 'Shpitz' Jagerman (son of the owner), and our server was Olga; service was super-friendly and informative.


What We Ate: We started with a crispy falafel (£4) of octopus and cod served with a rich and well-flavoured tahini and ambah. Ambah is a magnificent sauce that is hot, sour and sweet all at once, made from vinegared mangoes, turmeric, chili and other spices. I tried Ambah in Nazareth, Israel, where it is used as a spicy sauce for fish dishes, falafel, kubbah, kebabs and eggs.


The beetroot carpaccio from the raw bar (£8) took me straight back to Jerusalem, with its gorgeous presentation and layered combination of vegetarian textures and flavours. With burnt goat's cheese, hazelnut brittle, lentil tuile and a pomegranate molasses vinaigrette, this was a winner of a dish.


I was happy to see an entire section of the menu dedicated to their Josper grill – from it, we chose the aubergine (£9.50) - with smoky aromas and flavours, a creamy feta emulsion, tomatoes, fresh oregano, crispy shallots and pine nuts, aubergines do not get much better than this!


To accompany, we ordered Machneyuda’s signature polenta Jerusalem style (£9.50) - served with crunchy asparagus, a rich mushroom ragout, Parmesan and truffle oil, this was as good as I remember from their restaurant in Jerusalem where we tried this for the first time.


Octo-hummus (£13) partnered Josperised octopus with chickpea Msabacha (similar to hummus but with coarser pieces or sometimes whole chickpeas), cherry tomato confit and a zingy salsa verde of parsley, chilli and coriander. The octopus had a deliciously charred flavour while still remaining very soft and tender, lifted by the ultra-fresh herb dressing.


The Jerusalem mix (£15) came with chicken livers and hearts, veal sweetbreads a la plancha, okra, tomato, grilled onions and tahini – I was told to try this while in Jerusalem but didn’t manage to at the time. This was a lighter offal version than what is on offer in Jerusalem (with tongue, tripe etc) but delicious nevertheless – the offal was well cooked, I loved the creamy sweetbreads, and the grilled onions made the dish sing.


For dessert, we had the Jerusalem Mess (£7) – a gorgeous pudding with a number of ingredients including labneh mousse (soft cheese), almond crumble, strawberries, lemon cream, elderflower and apple jelly, fresh sorrel and basil cress. Creamy, crunchy, zingy and fresh, this dessert had it all and was a superb way to end our meal at The Palomar.


Equally good was the Malabi rose-scented milk pudding (£7) that came with raspberry coulis, coconut meringue, pistachio crunch, fresh raspberries and kataifi pastry (like angel hair pastry commonly seen in some types of baklava and in my favourite knafe). I remember having this in Jaffa from a street seller, served hot and with a little cinnamon. This is a favourite in Israel, served hot or cold on the streets but also in the finest restaurants.


What We Drank: We kicked off the evening with The Prelude - a refreshing cocktail of Prosecco, Aperol and Kamm & Sons. I liked this so much, the barman kindly told me how to prepare it - 25ml Aperol, 15ml Kamm & Sons, topped up with approximately 100ml Prosecco or Champagne.


The wines of Israel are gutsy and robust, and for our meal we chose a 500ml carafe of Syrah Har'el Clos de Gat 2011, from Judean Hills, Israel (£36), which worked a treat with all the grilled vegetables and meats and the lemony, spicy dressings.


Periodically, as in Israel, the staff would bring a complimentary shot, to be downed in one with the chefs and waiters, with a shout of 'la heim!’ (Cheers!).


Likes: There is so much to like about The Palomar - a buzzing atmosphere, great food and lively, knowledgeable and friendly service. 

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: For a taste of the wonderful cuisine of Israel in the heart of London, head to The Palomar. Book the zinc kitchen counter, and order as many small dishes as you can. Great food and super friendly service. Highly recommended.

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