Rok, London

Eating out
Rok, London

We had a weekend in Shoreditch the other week, and stayed at some achingly hip hotel, the type that has a lobby that people use as an informal shared work space.

I’ve honestly never seen a higher concentration of Macbooks anywhere.

For dinner one night, we ate at Rok, a loosely Scandinavian place on Curtain Road.

Rok ticks all the Shoreditch boxes – exposed brick painted white, open kitchen, big focus on smoked things, industrial type furniture, artisan this and that, and it’s absolutely wonderful. The dining room is stark, entirely white, warmed up with big pendant lights and bare wooden tables, bar and shelves. It’s understated and business-like, and most of the business happens in a tiny open kitchen tucked into the back of the space, a streak of smoke staining the wall over what’s evidently a ferocious grill.

The menu is broadly divided up into starters, mains and sides, not that these things seem to matter anymore in a world of small plates, and we started with a couple of pickles, a small dish of pickled carrot and a similar dish of beetroot. Each was light and fresh, barely fermented. Good. More…

The Taste of Portugal, Edite Vieira

Books
The Taste of Portugal, Edite Vieira

Portugal is very small, a slim slither of a country clinging on to the side of the Iberian Peninsula, battered along its western coast by the most magnificent of Atlantic breakers, its interior parched under a southern European sun. The strip along the bottom is a tourist haven, its capital, Lisbon, one of the most fashionable destinations in Europe right now, and its second city, Porto, looking set to steal that crown.

It’s a wonderful country, with a varied and elegant cuisine that’s indebted to both the mighty Atlantic and the scorching Mediterranean.

Here, salt cod is king, vast slabs of bacalhau hang in every grocers, ready to be rehydrated and turned into salt cod fritters or cakes, patties of cod fried in breadcrumbs until irresistible. Then there are sardines, grilled over charcoal on a beach in the Algarve, served with nothing more than a little too much salt and a good squeeze of lemon, or preserved in brightly coloured cans, each a work of art in its own right. There’s chorizo from Spain, and olive oil, and cakes and pastries, the famous pasteis de Nata,  the very best of which come from a shop in Belem, a short tram ride outside Lisbon, the shop with the blue awning, whose pasteis will change any day for the better.

Portugal is an excellent place to visit and an excellent place to eat.

Edita Vieira’s book, The Taste of Portugal, was originally written in 2000, and is now in its fifth edition, and there’s good reason for that.

Vieira’s book is as comprehensive a collection of Portuguese classics as you could hope to find. There’s plenty of salt cod, plenty of sardines, but also the taste of the country, stews of rabbit and chicken, kid marinated and cooked slowly in red wine, suckling pig.

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Anthony Bourdain’s rillettes

Food & drink
Anthony Bourdain’s rillettes

Rillettes is about as old-school a dish as you can get – and a tragically hard-to-find one. It gets right to the heart of what’s good: pork, pork fat, salt, and pepper. Kick off a meal with rillettes and you don’t have to wipe the plate rims, garnish the entree, or remember to keep your elbows off the table. Rillettes is something you serve friends – and people you already know you like.

I miss Anthony Bourdain already.

He was my kind of cook, and he cooked my kind of food – big, gutsy, quietly sophisticated, a generous nod to tradition and never, ever, ever straying far from the very central point of cooking and eating.

Flavour is everything, and it has to taste good.

I found Kitchen Confidential explosive, a glimpse into another world, written by a man who struck me as a punk, poet, and artisan rolled into one. It felt dangerous and authentic, raw and unfiltered. It still does. It still has a power to grab me and to drag me into all those many American kitchens.

Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook has featured proudly on my shelves for a long time. I use it often. It’s a go-to for French cooking, full of authentic recipes written with care and love, the chef’s methods, techniques and sometimes, short-cuts thrown in for good measure.

I’ve taken it from its shelf this week, sadly and defiantly, and I’ve re-read large parts of it. Bourdain wrote like a prince, his turn of phrase was elegant and at times beautiful. His death came too soon, and it’s a great loss, but his work remains, and I’m grateful for that, because it’s genuine, authentic and it has more clout than all of those bad boy celebrity chefs rolled into one.

Bourdain was the real deal. Never forget that.

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POCO Sicilian, Leeds

Food & drink
POCO Sicilian, Leeds

Last year, we went to Sicily.

It was wonderful, a beguiling and fascinating place, riven with history, fiercely hot, passionately intense and honest. We swam in the sea from makeshift pontoons made of scaffolding, drove around the mountains and hills, stood in awe in the middle of a Roman amphitheatre, facing the spectacle of the Mediterranean, and we ate well.

We ate very well.

‘Eating well’ isn’t too difficult in Italy, because food is a serious business, and eating is the reason for living. One day, we tracked down a restaurant in a small town in the hills that had been enthusiastically recommended by a very trusted friend, and ate one of the most memorable lunches I’ve ever experienced – three courses from a blackboard, a different menu to yesterday, one which changed constantly as things sold out, a kitchen that cooked entirely based on what was good that day, with no compromises whatsoever.

This was typical. Everything we ate on Sicily had something about it, something good, right down to the quick slice of pizza or arancini here and there as a snack. Of course, this is all a heady combination of place, circumstance and experience, but Sicilian food was absolutely excellent, especially from the street, from the little cafes and takeaways – fresh, lively, inventive, cheap food. [click to continue…]

Standard Sunday morning waffles

Food & drink
Standard Sunday morning waffles

There are several non-negotiable traditions in our family, and chief among them are Sunday morning waffles with maple syrup.

Nothing else, nothing more, nothing less. Waffles and maple syrup. Ever has it been, ever shall it be.

I fiddled around with a variety of recipes when we started out on this weekend ritual. I wanted to replicate Belgian waffles, but the whole thing was too involved for lazy Sunday mornings … yeast, stiffly beaten egg whites … just too much  faff. I wanted/needed a recipe that could be knocked together in minutes almost robotically, with nothing to actually think about.

This is that recipe. It’s an understated thing, hidden at a dark corner of the BBC’s food website, self deprecatingly titled ‘awfully good waffles’.

It really is very good. Reliable, simple, forgiving and very quick.

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