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Sunday 29 May 2016

A Recipe for the Best Burnt Cauliflower You Will Ever Taste!

Israeli food is fresh, gutsy and vibrant and having spent a couple of weeks eating my way around this wonderful country as part of Vibe Israel Food Tour of 2016, I soon became fascinated (if slightly obsessed) by it. As a chef, food & travel writer, I can honestly say that Israel has been one of the most inspiring culinary destinations I have visited in recent years. 

Israelis place great importance on good quality vegetables and how these are prepared; vegetables play a major role in any Israeli meal from breakfast to lunch and dinner. I was intrigued by some of their cooking techniques (they make extensive use of char-grilling), and also by their clever use of Middle Eastern spices, salted cheeses and yoghurts, lemony dressings and nutty tahini, elevating some of the simplest ingredients to completely new levels. I can say that this trip made me look at vegetables in a totally different light.

Take for example Eyal Shani’s burnt cauliflower – who would have thought you needed a recipe to burn cauliflower? Well apparently you do! One of the restaurants we got to visit in Tel Aviv during our trip was North Abraxas owned by celebrity chef Eyal Shani (reviewed here). Here we tried his signature burnt cauliflower, whose recipe he was kind enough to share with me.

I have tried this at home in London on a number of occasions, and it still impresses me every time. I love how such an inexpensive and ordinary vegetable can be transformed into something so utterly delicious.

We have all tried to be clever about cauliflower – we have added bacon, or baked it with tons of cheese or smothered it with curry sauce, but this recipe is all about the humble veg and it alone, with nothing else added but olive oil and salt. It is a winner of a recipe, dead easy to prepare and super quick too. I hope you will give it a try!

Burnt Cauliflower

  • 1 medium-sized cauliflower (about 600g)
  • 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Malden sea salt flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
For the tahini dressing (optional)
  • 100g good quality tahini
  • Juice of ½ lemon, to taste
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed
  • Pinch of salt, to taste
  • 100-200ml water, to taste

1. Pre-heat the oven to its highest setting (300°C or higher if possible). If your oven temperature does not go this high, you will need to use the grill at the end of the cooking process.

2. Fill a pan (large enough to take the entire cauliflower) with salted water (10g salt/litre water). Bring it to boil, then add the whole cauliflower to the pan and simmer for 8-10 minutes until softened.

3. Carefully remove the cauliflower from the pan and drain it over a colander for 10 minutes.

4. Using your hands, gently baste the entire cauliflower head with the extra virgin olive oil, season with the Malden sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

5. Place the cauliflower (head side up) on a baking tin lined with greaseproof paper. Cook it in the pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes or until blackened. If the cauliflower is not thoroughly blackened (because your oven is not hot enough), you may use the grill – place the cauliflower under the grill and let it burn for 3-5 minutes, carefully rotating it so that the entire upper part of the cauliflower is caramelized.

6. While the cauliflower is in the oven, prepare the tahini dressing – in a bowl add the tahini, salt, crushed garlic and lemon juice, then start adding the water little by little mixing vigorously as you do to incorporate it into the mix. The mix will initially curdle but do not worry, continue adding more water and mixing all the time, it will bind again. Add enough water until it has the consistency of double cream, check for seasoning and adjust if necessary. 

7. Serve the burnt cauliflower whilst hot with the lemony tahini dressing.

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Stellenbosch – My Top 3 Dining Recommendations on South Africa’s Finest Wine Route

Of the several great meals we had during our recent trip to Stellenbosch, three truly stood out. In no particular order these were:

Indochine, Delaire Graff Estate
The Restaurant, Waterkloof Wine Estate
Makaron Restaurant, Majeka House

With 6 out of 10 best fine-dining restaurants of South Africa in Stellenbosch and surrounding towns, you will be hard pressed to find a better foodie destination in the country. Many of these restaurants are set in beautiful wine estates making for a nice outing if you decide to go for a bit of wine tasting before your meal.

Stellenbosch - green, sunny, beautiful

If you are planning a visit to South Africa’s Western Cape, make sure to allow plenty of time for the wonderful restaurants, wine estates and the gorgeous scenery along the Stellenbosch Wine Route. And of course – bookmark this page!

Artworks dotted around Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch is a beautiful place and only 45 minutes drive from Cape Town and is an ideal spot for a relaxing holiday, and with great food and wine.

The Restaurant, Waterkloof Wine Estate

Headed by French chef Gregory Czarnecki, The Restaurant at the Waterkloof Wine Estate serves lunch and dinner for up to 120 diners per sitting.

Claudia Young-Kelly (Waterkloof's Sales & Marketing Manager) and Head Chef Gregory Czarnecki

Gorgeous views from Waterkloof
The dining room and balconies afford wonderful views of the surrounding valleys and the sea, making it one of the finest spots to take in the beauty of the region over a glass of something tempting.

Waterkloof is a biodynamic winery, and all the grapes are hand picked and sorted. No pesticides or other chemical interventions are used at Waterkloof so the wines produced here are aimed to be a true expression of the varietals used and the local terroir. The wines we tried, although young (mainly 2015 vintage) were well made with good flavour characteristics.

Wine tanks at Waterkloof

The food at Waterkloof was exquisitely presented, with the quality of the ingredients and the cooking skills really in evidence.

We started with a gorgeous ceviche of seabass with shavings of celeriac, snoek (a Cape mackerel), seaweed and bottarga (salted, cured grey mullet roe). This was paired with a glass of “Seriously Cool” Chenin Blanc 2015, an intense and robust white.

Next up was chef Czarnecki’s Crayfish Duglère, his own take on the famous 19th century French chef’s brill recipe, cooked in tomatoes, white wine and crème fraiche.  This was my favourite dish of the meal – it was deliciously creamy with chunky pieces of crayfish tail, but still with great refreshing acidity, and beautifully paired with a herbaceous 2015 Waterkloof Sauvignon Blanc.

Chicken dishes have to be exceptional to impress me, and fortunately Waterkloof’s succulent chicken breast roasted on the crown lived up to expectations. Served with a terrine made from paper-thin shavings of pumpkin, curry gremolata, pomegranate sauce and pine nuts, this was as good as it gets.

The chicken was cleverly paired with a 2015 Seriously Cool Cinsault (one of the two grape varietals, along with Pinot Noir, that makes the national Pinotage vine) it was great to taste this single varietal which is more usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. Served lightly chilled at 14 degrees, this had light tannin and berry fruit aromatics, making a more interesting partner to the chicken than the most obvious white wines.

The dessert was a stunning raspberry mousse, with gel cremeux, lychee custard, elderflower cordial and Martini sorbet.

The restaurant offers 2 and 3 course meals from the a la carte menu at R370 (£17.50) and R480 (£23) and also their 6-course degustation menu for R900/£43 (or R1,100/£52 including wine pairings).

I was hugely impressed by the level of cooking at Waterkloof, and if you are planning one or a few days in Stellenbosch, I would highly recommend this as one of your top fine-dining options.

Indochine, Delaire Graff Estate

Located in perhaps the most lavish wine estate in the region, Delaire Graff Estate is owned by British multi-millionaire diamond merchant, art collector and (now) wine maker Laurence Graff.

The grounds are stunning, with artworks dotted throughout the estate, two restaurants and a Relais & Chateaux accredited hotel. The estate is also home to one of the most impressive private art collections in the country, which alone warrants a visit. 

These include the iconic 1952 ‘Chinese Girl’ by Vladimir Tretchikoff. Like the Mona Lisa, this is one of the most reproduced and recognized paintings in the world.

I was also thrilled to see so many works by Lionel Smit, one of South Africa’s most talented young artists (until then unknown to me), famous for his huge portrait canvases and sculptures. Smit’s works are truly impressive, more information about his amazing work on his website here.

But most importantly, the food at Delaire Graff Estate is exceptionally good. There are two dining options on the estate – The Delaire Graff Restaurant offering French fine-dining, and its little sister, the Asian inspired Indochine, and this is where we headed for lunch.

The lovely Indochine Restaurant at Delaire Graff Estate

We kicked off with a small tasting trio of some of the restaurant’s signature starters – a Thai mushroom salad containing the veg in many different guises: puréed and soiled (made from dried mushroom, onions and chives), and sautéed Japanese mushrooms, but also chilli jam, rice fritters and red curry paste.

The prawn salad had in addition to the seafood, a crunchy kakiage of squid (a style of tempura), ikura (salmon roe), pickled daikon, chives and avocado puree among other ingredients. The third item was a shiitake & edamame gyoza or potstickers served with a refreshing soy & lemon dressing. I thoroughly enjoyed each item – they were bursting with fresh flavours, and had an incredible composition of many different ingredients that came together as a whole, perfectly balanced.

There were two small mains – the beef fillet rendang was gorgeously presented, served in a rich, curried coconut sauce, spiked with lemongrass, chilli and cinnamon, with diced red onions and large tapioca pearls. Better still was the black bean steamed linefish with ginger, quinoa, black garlic, and myriad herbs including Vietnamese coriander (grown in the estate’s greenhouse), Thai basil and mint. The combination of flavours and textures in this dish was in my opinion spot on.

Desserts were also impressive – I liked the beautifully aromatic lime and yuzu tart served with a toasty black sesame macaron crumble. But it was Indochine’s take on the South Asian Gulab Jamun that stole the show for me. Gulam Jamun is a favourite dessert of mine made from milk solids (cooked milk until water is completely evaporated) then kneaded into small balls or donuts, deep-fried and soaked in sugar syrup scented with rose water.  At Indochine, the gulab jamun donuts were flavoured in cardamom syrup, and were accompanied by coconut panna cotta, saffron and rose water jellies, ginger, cardamom ice cream and coconut soil. Dessert heaven!

To accompany our meal, we tried two of Delaire Graff Estate’s wines – their 2015 Summercourt Chardonnay and Shiraz. The chardonnay was surprisingly tropical with good minerality and a touch of French oak, a perfect accompaniment to our starters.

Likewise, the Shiraz, with ripe berry fruit and prominent peppery notes expected from the varietal stood up beautifully to the rich beef rendang, a great match.

A visit to the Delaire Graff Estate is a must to anyone in Stellenbosch – the gorgeous setting, private artwork and exquisite food and wines will make for a great day out and I highly recommend it.

Makaron Restaurant, Majeka House

I was so pleased to discover that the food and wine offerings at Majeka House were on par with their stunning accommodation and setting.

We were lucky to spend a night at Majeka House and experience their hospitality as well as reputedly the ‘best’ breakfast in South Africa but more on that later.

Majeka House’s thoughtfulness on the hotel and room designs was impressive – I was pleased to see international sockets in the rooms (so no adapters required), coffee capsule machines, complimentary filtered water and freshly baked cookies on arrival as well as Gourmet and Food & Home magazines in each of the rooms. These are little things that show a real eye for detail and go beyond most people’s expectations.

My room was beautifully designed and comfortable, with all the amenities of the finest hotels including a huge fresco-style nature print on the ceiling, the last and very first thing I got to see as I went to bed and woke up at Majeka House.

In addition, Majeka House has a fantastic indoor swimming pool and spa where I was given a back and shoulder massage – I remember it being ever so relaxing but little else as I fell asleep 10 minutes into it! The spa offers a comprehensive range of treatments to residents.

I loved my stay at Majeka House for all the above reasons but it was their kitchen that really sold it to me. The Makaron Restaurant within Majeka House is a serious restaurant attracting both residents and non-residents since 2008.

They make everything in-house from churning their butter, to the bread and their French patisserie and jams. I was told to make time for breakfast at Majeka House and was so pleased that I did, getting up an hour earlier to give it my undivided attention, I was not disappointed.

So happy to see my favourite - vetkoek (Fat Cakes) at Majenka House
And what a spread - I loved the cannelles, the cheeses and cold meats, the Mimosa section (of course) and the perfectly cooked eggs benedict.

It was a joy to have freshly baked pastries and breads and the coffee was good and strong.

We checked into Majeka House on a Sunday and just in time to enjoy their Sunday Roast menu, usually only available at lunchtime and priced at a reasonable R185 or £9 per person.

The set menu includes roast beef sirloin, served with carrots and horseradish puree, duck fat roast potatoes, baby courgettes and Parmesan, and a green leaf salad. Despite the familiarity and apparent simplicity of the menu, the quality of the ingredients and the cooking really shone through – the beef was succulent and beautifully cooked as were the accompaniments.

We also go to try some of the starters from the a la carte menu – I enjoyed the rainbow beets and goats cheese Chantilly starter (£3.80), it had a variety of coloured beets prepared in different ways so offered a range of textures and earthy, tangy flavours.

The Parmesan risotto with truffle (£4) was also excellent – creamy, cheesy and rich with heady scent and flavour of truffles.

After a stunning selection of cheeses and preserves, we tried two of their desserts – the one that stood out for me was their coconut, lime and granadilla (an Andean passion fruit) option (£4).

Fresh, zingy and sweet all at once, it had a perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, and contrasting textures with crunchy pastries, creamy sorbets, mousses - a real symphony of a dessert.

As Majeka House is not a wine producer their drinks list is not limited to a single vineyard, in fact their wine list is one of the most comprehensive I have seen in Stellenbosch. I enjoyed their 2014 Stellenrust ‘50’ Chenin Blanc (£13.50/bottle) as well as the 2014 Longridge Pinotage (£12.50/bottle) served with our dinner.

The Makaron Restaurant at Majeka House is a serious restaurant, serving some of the best food in Stellenbosch. The care and quality of the ingredients and cooking expertise are very apparent and I also highly recommend it as one of my top 3 spots for a meal in the area.

Stellenblog 2016

The Stellenblog campaign was created and sponsored by the Stellenbosch Wine Routes, Stellenbosch 360 and Destinate in partnership with iambassador. The London Foodie has maintained full editorial control over all content published as always.

In the coming few weeks, I will be sharing with you my Cape Town and #Stellenblog adventures, as well as my top recommendations for restaurants and wineries in the region. My fellow international bloggers will be posting their thoughts too, so do check in on Rob of Stop Having a Boring Life, Marvin Schoenberg of NiedBlog, Kiersten of The Blong Abroad, Twiggy Mollison of Sleepless in Soweto and Meruschka Govender of Mzansi Girl for further insights.

Travel Essentials

I flew with South African Airways from London Heathrow taking a connecting flight from Johannersburg to Cape Town. With two daily overnight flights from Heathrow to Johannesburg, South African Airways offers flights to the largest route network within Southern Africa. To learn more, visit their website on flysaa.com or call 0844 375 9680.

Waterkloof Wine Estate
Sir Lowry's Pass Road, 
Somerset West, 7129 
Phone: +27 (021) 858 1292

Delaire Graff Estate
Helshoogte Pass
South Africa
Phone: +27 21 885 8160
Email: info@delaire.co.za

Majeka House
26-32 Houtkapper Street
Stellenbosch 7600 
Western Cape

Thursday 19 May 2016

Penzance - A Cornish Staycation (Continued)

For my first post on Penzance, and other hotel and restaurant recommendations, please read it here.

Three hundred miles southwest of London, and a 5-hour drive away, the town of Penzance is the western-most city in England, and an excellent spot from which to explore this part of Britain.

A historic port, once affluent and known for tin-mining and industrial-scale fishing, these days Penzance is mostly visited for its excellent fish and seafood restaurants, for the surrounding fine sandy beaches and for the spectacular cliff top walks scattered throughout the county of Cornwall.

Penzance is a charming, although not chocolate-box pretty town, with a buzzing high street, plenty of shops and some fine Georgian architecture.

Just ten miles from Land’s End, Penzance is surrounded by an area of Celtic culture and outstanding natural beauty. Majestic cliffs, rocky coves and crystal clear seas vie with the heather and gorse of the moors and early Christian and Bronze Age sites to form a landscape that supports a proud Cornish culture, and has long been a source of inspiration for artists and writers.

Where to Stay in Penzance

The Artist’s Residence is part of a collection of small boutique hotels with properties in Pimlico, Brighton, and Penzance.

Situated in a historic Georgian house in Penzance, The Artist’s Residence has 13 bedrooms and 4 apartments, each one quirkily decorated in a different, artistic style. The hotel has its own all-day restaurant & bar, The Cornish Barn on the ground floor, open also to members of the public.

There are different categories of double rooms at the hotel, we stayed in a "small arty double". This had a quirky, artistic décor, a comfortable double bed, wooden floors, as well as a writing desk with a selection of complimentary teas, coffee, biscuits and bottled water.

With plenty of natural light, the room was beautifully kitted out with modern pieces of furniture, a Roberts radio, funky prints on the wall and other vintage accessories. The en-suite bathroom was cleverly designed with open glass panels and a sliding door to maximize both space and natural light.

The Artist's Residence is ideally situated to explore Penzance, being on the most charming street in town, surrounded by historic pubs, restaurants and antique stores, and only a five-minute walk from the seafront. Free road parking is available about 100 metres away from the hotel, near the church and on the sea promenade.

Breakfast is served in The Cornish Barn, and all dishes are cooked to order, including a full English at £7.50. If you book directly via the website, breakfast is included in the room rate. We opted for the spinach and Cornish Blue cheese scrambled eggs on sourdough toast (£6.50), which was a very comforting breakfast dish.

The American style pancakes were light and fluffy, served with crispy smoked back bacon and maple syrup (£6), and I would love to have these again.

Our stay at The Artist’s Residence was short but sweet. The location is excellent, the rooms are quite well priced and the atmosphere is casual and convivial. I liked the light and airy rooms with quirky décor. I highly recommend The Artist’s Residence and The Cornish Barn as great places to stay and eat in Penzance. 

Where to Eat in Penzance

The Cornish Barn

The Cornish Barn is an informal bar & restaurant that was packed with a young and friendly crowd on the evening we visited.

Dinner is served as a series of small eats, with 6 dishes per couple being recommended. The menu is divided into sea, farm, field and sides, at prices ranging from £3 to £13.50. The restaurant’s sliders are among their most popular dishes, both for the fish and meat options.

The kitchen is headed by British Chef Gareth Spencer, who was at The Bake House (a modern British restaurant a little further up the road) until 2015.

We started our dinner with three fish options – the seared Middle Eastern hand-dived scallops (£9) were plump and beautifully spiced. They were served with a delicious tarator sauce (made of ground walnuts, garlic and tahini) and a lime relish.

The octopus (£9.50) was superbly tender, served with smoked chorizo, capers, and black wild rice. I loved the combination of seafood and pork, and the rice also added a creamy texture. The dish as a whole was bursting with flavour and very well seasoned.

Pan-fried hake, with parsley sauce and tempura mussels (£8.50) was also very good. I had not tried tempura mussels before, but they worked well, adding another layer of texture and flavour to the dish.

Moving on to meat dishes, we ordered the pressed pork belly (£11). Served with pickled cabbage and a sweet and spicy sauce, the pork was rich and unctuous.

Our waiter advised us that at least one slider was compulsory at The Cornish Barn. I did not need too much encouragement, and ordered the slider of barn burger, BBQ pulled pork, and chicken and avocado with crispy bacon and mayo (£11.50).

I was surprised by how generously sized the sliders were, nearly full-sized burgers. The beef patty was served medium rare, just right and as requested. The BBQ pulled pork had a rich sauce with a real kick of chilli heat, while the chicken, avocado and crispy bacon had crunchy and creamy textures.

To accompany our dishes, we ordered sides of cheesy chips (£3.50) and Mac 'n' Cheese (£5), The latter was well flavoured, although to my palate the pasta was a little overcooked.

For dessert, we shared a rum-infused crème brûlée with peanut brittle and banana ice cream (£6.50). This was very good – creamy, nutty, and I loved the banana ice cream. The Boozy affogato (£6.50), a mixture of ice cream and Kahlua liqueur, was a nice little number.

We shared a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet, Domain des Lauriers 2014, from Languedoc (£20), which was attractively steely and mineral-driven, and good value.

The Shore Restaurant

Just a 5 minute walk from The Artist’s Residence, The Shore Restaurant, run by chef-owner Bruce Rennie, offers a small menu based on the locally available fish of the day. He trained at a number of Michelin starred UK restaurants including Rick Stein's, as well as Martin Wishart's restaurant in Edinburgh.

He credits his wife (a vet in a local practice) with shaping his sensitivity to ethical sourcing and animal welfare, and serves fish from a number of local sustainable suppliers including the Wild Harbour Fish Company and Mousehole Fish. He bakes his own bread, churns the restaurant's butter, and even makes his own chocolates. 

We chose the ceviche of the day's catch (turbot and gurnard) (£7), served with yellow, green and red heirloom tomatoes and avocado, a little jug of delicately flavoured tomato water, and coriander cress.  This was delicious with very well textured, ultra-fresh fish, although I would have enjoyed a little more acidity.

The second starter featured turbot lightly cured in sugar and salt, served raw and thinly sliced with ginger, spring onions, garlic chips, wild garlic flowers and wasabi (£8). Served with little dots of leek chlorophyll, and ponzu sauce, this was delicate but full of freshness.

For mains, we had monkfish (£19), served with a Japanese nitsuke sauce, made from soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, and kombu dashi. Served with udon noodles, kale, shimeji mushrooms and shredded daikon, the monkfish had been wrapped in nori seawood, poached then cut into chunky medallions. This was an ambitious dish, using ingredients not often seen on Western restaurant menus.

Pan-fried hake was served with beetroots (red, candied and golden), and a beetroot risotto, garnished with shallots, tarragon oil, lemon zest oil and wild garlic (£16.50). The hake was beautifully golden and fresh, contrasting with the creamy, slightly sweet beetroot risotto.

To finish, we shared a Valrhona Dulcey chocolate cremeux of dark chocolate sorbet and peanut (£7). This was beautifully made and presented, and was a refreshing end to the meal.

We chose a bottle of Greco 'Giano' from Campania, Taburno Sannio 2014 (£29), with restrained green fruit and minerality. 

Travel Essentials

How to Get There

We drove from London, it was a 5 hour drive door to door. If you are taking the train, the nearest station is Penzance, which is a 10 minute walk away. The train to Penzance from Paddington takes around 5 hours. Newquay Airport is a 1 hour drive away. 

The Artist’s Residence & The Cornish Barn
20 Chapel Street
TR18 4AW

Double rooms cost from £85 per room per day. Please check the hotel’s website for current offers. The room rate also includes breakfast if booked directly with the hotel.

The Shore Restaurant
13-14 Alverton Street
TR18 2QP

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