Thursday 19 February 2015

Culinary Adventures in Cape Town

Yet again, The New York Times voted Cape Town as its top holiday destination in 2014.

And really, what’s not to love about Cape Town? It’s just one long sleep away, a mere two hours time change so virtually no jet lag and a guaranteed instant hit of winter sunshine.

Much has changed since my last trip a decade ago.Cape Town exudes confidence, it’s a brilliant cultural stew-pot, businesses seem to just spring up all over the place, hip urban coffee shops, farmers markets, roadside shacks, super cool cafés, restaurants,  pop-up concerts where the music can be anything from bongo drumming, French folk singing, classical to hip-hop.

On my earlier trips to South Africa, imported products and ingredients were greatly sought after but now virtually every shop and restaurant proudly touts the fact that the produce or products are produced in South Africa. The sea and farms around Cape Town produce some fine quality fruit, vegetables, meat, and beautiful fresh fish which is often cooked within hours of coming off the boats.

Many Cape Town eateries are casual affairs but it also has its share of stellar chefs and two of its top restaurants The Test Kitchen in Cape Town and The Tasting Room in Franschhoek are on the world’s Top 100 Restaurant List. Over the festive season it was really tough to get a table in many of the most talked about places but I had a particularly memorable lunch at The Pot Luck Club, the more casual and edgier roof-top sister restaurant of Luke Dale-Roberts’ The Test Kitchen. Chef Wesley Randles and his gang of passionate young chefs turn out an irresistible range of pan African and Asian sharing plates.

Out in Franschhoek where I spent a few days to attend a family wedding. I greatly enjoyed staying at LeQuartier Français on the main street. Breakfast was one of the best I have eaten anywhere. Freshly squeezed and I mean freshly squeezed juices - orange, beetroot, grapefruit…  Beautiful fresh ripe fruit, crunchy granolas classic and gluten free, thick unctuous buffalo milk and Greek yoghurts, home-made jams and croissants and house cured bacon.

 Here the less formal, Living Room serves delicious tapas all day long. I particularly loved the prawn popcorn in a crisp tempura batter with aioli and the duck and lentil crumble.

The Old Biscuit Mill in the Woodstock is not to be missed. What used to be a rundown area home to fishermen and factory workers is now a collection of little shops run by creative young artisans, furniture makers, artists and craftspeople. The Neighbourhood’s Saturday Market is an insight into the vibrant artisan food scene with local farmers, bakers, cheese-makers, charcutiers with over one hundred traders selling their handmade and home grown produce.

Out in Kalk Bay we had brunch at the Olympia Café for old times sake. There was a queue as ever for the plates of simple food, chippos, scrambled egg, frittata, omelettes, bacon… served on chipped formica tables. I ordered coconut hotcakes with passion fruit and strawberries and soaked up the hippie vibe.

Melissa’s The Food Shop in Cape Town is an interesting deli and café with an intriguing system. You can choose a selection of lunch dishes from her table and then have the plate weighed to arrive at the price,  it seemed to work brilliantly. 

And finally, Silwood Kitchen, South Africa’s first cookery school established by the feisty Lesley Faull, celebrates their 50th year with the publication of ‘A Year at Silwood’ published by Quivertree Publications.

Tuesday 10 February 2015

What's Hot in New York?

So what’s happening on the New York Food scene? Food seems to be an obsession with virtually everyone. Everyone seems to chat endlessly about where they’ve eaten and the new big thing.

Here's a really good place to add to your New York list.

Via Carota is the newest venture of Jody Williams of Buvette and Rita Sodi of I Sodi, both firm favourites of mine, all within a few blocks of each other around Grove Street. It serves simple Italian and French food, gorgeous ingredients and pretty dishes.

With all the snow and blizzard confusion we just managed to have a couple of small plates and a few salads in the long glass-fronted restaurant. I was longing to stay for dinner to taste the fried rabbit with rosemary and garlic toast.

Instead we had their bunless burger made of hand-chopped New York strip steak simply seasoned with salt and pepper, rosemary and garlic, seared on a hot flat top griddle. It comes on the plate without the distraction of a bun or fries, it may just be New York’s best burger in a town where they certainly know how to make a burger.

Monday 9 February 2015

A Food Lovers' Tour of County Cork

Once a term on the 12 Week Certificate course, all the students pile into a bus. There’s always great excitement as we head off on our Ballymaloe Cookery School tour. Everyone reverts back to giggly school kids but although it is a super fun day, it’s all about garnering ideas that inspire the students. We visit a farmers market, artisan producers, fish smoker, farmhouse cheese maker, maybe a café, restaurant or food truck…

This term, we started at Mahon Point Farmers Marketa sizzling ferment of brilliant ideas on the outskirts of Cork city, which hosts a myriad of stalls selling predominately local food.The market is celebrating its ten year anniversary this month and there will be events, tastings and music every Thursday this month... so be sure to go and visit.

Where to start when you get there? The Old Millbank Smokehouse has a wonderful range of potato and fish cakes as well as gorgeous pies: chicken and chorizo, steak and Guinness, roast vegetable and goat cheese…  Scotch eggs in many flavours from the West Cork Pie Company, The Good Little Cook make arancini to make even Italians weep, Middle Eastern falafel and hummus. And the marshmallows from Cloud Confectionary are to die for.

Marcus Hodder makes homemade gelato and serves it with  crispy waffles made fresh on the stall. There are irresistible  cake pops from Treat Petite. Carl Fahy’s Galway Bay Bagels and pretzels are made from scratch. Mick’s homemade nut roasts from Nutcase Food Company. Spanish temptations, La Cocina from Silvia and Olga – super authentic Spanish style baking including their Portuguese custard tarts. 

Gluten free treats from Gan Gluten for the fast growing wheat intolerant and coeliac market. Fumagalli’s fresh pasta, lasagne and pasta sauces, numerous cake, preserves and cookie stalls,  Arbutus artisan bread...

And I haven’t even mentioned the farmers, fishermen, local veg or herb growers, Lolo’s steak sandwiches, Arun’s Green Saffron spices, Volcano pizzas, Rocketman salads on and on …

From there we headed for West Cork to visit the Ferguson family farm at Gubbeen outside Schull. The multi ethnic student group loved driving through the beautiful Irish countryside and little towns with gaily painted pubs and shop fronts.

The milk from Tom’s herd of Friesians and Jersey cows goes to the dairy to make the now famous Gubbeen cheeses,  the whey from the cheese-making gets fed to the pigs for Fingal’s Gubbeen bacon and charcuterie. 

Three generations of the Ferguson family live on the 150 acre dairy farm and add value to the produce in a variety of ways. 

Clovisse grows the organic herbs to flavour the sausages and salad leaves and edible flowers for local restaurants. Giana also has a collection of fancy fowl, geese, ducks and chickens and Fingal in his ‘spare time’ makes hand-made knives when their three little boys have snuggled down for the night. The produce is sold at five  farmers markets and specialist shops around the country. The students were gob-smacked by the entrepreneurial spirit of the whole family.

We had a picnic and food from the farm in the conservatory and gardens and then off to Ummera Smokehouse near Timoleague. There Anthony Creswell told us about the trials and tribulations and triumphs of running an artisan food business. We tasted his award winning smoked salmon, duck, chicken and dry cured nitrate free rashers – a wonderful story which started in 1980’s.

Our last stop was at just a few minutes away close to the beautiful Timoleague Abbey in the village of Timoleague  where Gavin Moore and Michelle O’Mahony opened a  pub/café (Monk's Lane Wine Bar & Café) last May. The revamp took just five weeks of super hard work with lots of help from family and friends. Their simple menu reflects the fresh local produce of the West Cork area where let’s face it they are spoiled for choice. 

My students from seven different countries were thrilled and inspired by their brief interlude in West Cork and are already talking about planning a longer trip to discover even more West Cork Magic.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Snowed In in New York

We packed our bags and headed for the US ready to launch the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine in New York. We had a terrific guest list of media, speakers, friends and well-wishers.

David Tanis of the New York Times, April Bloomfield of the ‘Spotted Pig’, ‘John Dory Oyster Bar’, ‘The Breslin Bar and Dining Room’ fame, blogger extraordinaire David Lebovitz, Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery, Christine Muhlke of Bon Appetit, Niall Gibbons of Tourism Ireland, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Paschal Donohoe and Kerrygold our festival sponsors were all due to attend.

But we hadn't reckoned on the weather taking a sudden turn for the worse. Sunday was crisp beautiful sunny day, but by Monday New York was being whipped into a frenzy of panic by the weather forecasters, who predicted scary blizzards, 24-30 inches of snow by Monday evening.

The city gradually went into lock down, and by mid-afternoon the conditions had certainly worsened, but still only a few inches of snow. By late evening trains had stopped running and roads around the city were closed, as were shops and restaurants. Supermarkets shelves were emptied as people panicked. The serious snow and blizzards were, we were told, to come during the night. 

Well, the prediction turned out to be embarrassingly exaggerated – a mere two to three inches of snow dusted sidewalks in the morning but the city was still at a standstill and it took days for things to get back to normal.

The Flatiron the day of the planned launch - not a person in sight. NY was locked down.

Meanwhile we had held out to the last moment to make a decision, but there was simply no option but to cancel the event. As you can imagine we were thoroughly disappointed, having found a great venue in the Bowery, planned it all, hired all the glassware, great flowers, yummy food... Not to worry. We quickly picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down and arranged a new date for the New York launch of the  Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine in mid March.

Monday 2 February 2015

Spring has Sprung - the new Skye Gyngell restaurant

Spring, Skye Gyngell’s restaurant was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in London for several years. 

Skye, whose super fresh food at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond thrilled and excited real food lovers from all over the world, had not been actively involved in the restaurant scene for over two years. In that time she and her team were actively seeking out exciting premises in central London. 

After much toing and froing they eventually chose part of the New Wing at Somerset House, where the Inland Revenue had its office for 158 years. 

The new space could not be much further in style from the original charming greenhouse at Petersham Nurseries where mismatched tables, crockery and cutlery on the clay floor created a sophisticated up-cycled boho chic look. 

Here in Spring, Skye shows her elegant ultra-chic side by transforming what by all accounts was a dull and dreary room into a haven of sophistication with a Zen-like feel.  

The walls are pastel with tiny handmade porcelain flowers by Valeria Nascimento fluttering across the walls. There’s a marble counter at one end from which drinks and house cordials are dispensed. The cutlery is by English cutler David Mellor and the leather chairs are by Mario Bellini.

The chandeliers which resemble bunches of frosted balloons cast a soft flattering glow. Not everyone loves the atmosphere or the eccentric staff uniform designed by Trager Delaney of Egg. I personally found them playful and quirky... and why not?

The food was totally delicious, quintessentially Skye even though she wasn’t in the kitchen herself that night. Beautifully fresh ingredients shine through with the minimum of interference. 

The stunning desserts at are the creations of Sarah Johnson and her team. Sarah interned here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for a while and honed her considerable skills at Chez Panisse in Berkeley  as well as Pizzaiolo in Oakland.

The wine list would also blow you out of the water impressing even the most seasoned wine buffs. Deeply knowledgeable sommelier Frank Embleton has been given both the brief and budget to create one of the most fascinating and well-chosen lists in London to compliment Skye’s food. 

Put Spring on your London list. Open seven days for lunch and dinner.