Archive | October, 2013

RECOMMENDED: Pasta & Sauces by Seriously Italian

24 Oct

One of the best lunches I’ve had in recent months was not in a Michelin-starred restaurant or within the welcoming decor of a much-lauded new café, it was devoured outdoors, quayside at St Katharine’s Dock.

This wonderful meal took the form of three flavoursome pasta dishes from Seriously Italian‘s market stall. A regular fixture at The Good Food Market at Marble Quay (close to The Tower of London), the stall is run by a married couple from Italy and offers a selection of mouth-watering lunch dishes.

Cooked on site, each carefully prepared dish features the couple’s handmade, award-winning, fresh pasta and homemade sauces (also available to buy should you wish to recreate similar meals at home).

image

Giovanni cooks parpadelle in green pesto

It was a pleasure to meet one half of the Seriously Italian duo, Giovanni, during my visit to The Good Food Market last Friday. His passion for cooking was evident and his approach towards his produce was inspiring: Seriously Italian is the only UK outlet producing pasta made from 100% British durum wheat. Even the gnocchi is made with British potatoes!

image

The Seriously Italian stall at The Good Food Market

Being artisan chefs, the provenance of their ingredients is key, sourcing the finest quality stoneground flour, organic certified produce and fresh vegetables to create not only hot dishes, but also packets of ready-to-cook pasta and jars of accompanying sauces.

The stall offers three hot dishes each week, and I was lucky enough to sample all three available options during my visit, beginning with a combination of two types of plump, Organic Gnocchi – beetroot, and a spinach and ricotta.

Tossed in a richly flavoured vegetarian red pesto, which looked deceptively like meat ragu, the gnocchi were perfectly cooked, with soft, fluffy centres melting against a mild heat of chilli in the sauce.

Organic Parpadelle with Courgettes, Speck and Homemade Green Pesto was bolder and equally enjoyable. The vibrant sauce looked fresh and inviting and just one bite confirmed its superior quality. Fragrant with basil, the flavour was nicely balanced by bites of salty ham and al dente pasta.

image

Organic Gnocchi and Parpadelle

Whilst my first two pasta dishes were outstanding, it has to be said that Seriously Italian‘s Lasagne – made with pumpkin, sage and almonds – was nothing short of INCREDIBLE.

image

Lasagne by Seriously Italian

The creaminess of the bechamel was worthy of a standing ovation for perfection, even without the addition of delicious sage-spiced pumpkin and fresh pasta.

Sadly, I didn’t take a photo of my box of assorted pastas – I was too busy shovelling enthusiastic forkfuls into my mouth! Whilst I chewed and sighed with pleasure (it was a bit When Harry Met Sally but I really couldn’t help myself), I wasn’t surprised to learn from Giovanni that Seriously Italian‘s pasta was honoured with a Great Taste Award earlier this year. Well deserved, believe me!

Unable to wait an entire seven days until The Good Food Market‘s return to Marble Quay the following week, Giovanni kindly gave me a jar of his homemade Pistachio Pesto to continue my Italian adventure at home – an outstanding concoction which transformed an otherwise bland bowl of Sainsbury’s penne into a gourmet meal.

Overall verdict? Seriously Italian could easily be renamed ‘Seriously Good’! It’s a five star lunch in a five star location – a beautiful marina, brought to life with authentic Italian food, hospitality and warmth.

Visit Seriously Italian at The Good Food Market, every Friday from 11.30am (Marble Quay, St Katharine’s Dock, London, E1W 1UH)

Advertisements

REVIEW: Chocolates by The Chocolatier (Aneesh Popat)

24 Oct

One of the highlights of Salon du Chocolat‘s London debut was Aneesh Popat’s impassioned talk and tasting session, introducing his exquisite chocolates and ganaches.

image

Aneesh Popat at Salon du Chocolat

Applying chemistry to his art and challenging tradition – much like a certain Mr Blumenthal – Popat has quickly made a name for himself with his unorthodox techniques and experimental flavours.

image

Talking chocolate with evangelical passion: Aneesh Popat

“Chocolate is a superfood and we should eat it everyday!” proclaimed the artisan chocolatier during his fervoured presentation – immediately gaining my approval and agreement. Not that I need any encouragement to partake in a daily chocolate fix: I’ve had that one down pat since I was seven!

However, I now have a reason to feel less guilty… Under the brand name of The Chocolatier, Popat produces his critically-acclaimed confectionery without any cream or butter – making them far healthier alternatives to other chocolates on the market.

Able to produce the most velvety creations using only chocolate and water (the trick is in the emulsification process and the generation of small particles), Popat’s dairy-free treats contain approximately 40% to 50% less calories than traditional chocolate. Depending on if you’re a glutton or a weight-watcher, you can choose to eat twice as much or stick to a healthy diet. I’m Team Glutton all the way!

Despite these vegan roots, the omission of dairy in no way impairs the flavour or quality of Popat’s chocolates or ganaches (believe me, my palette can detect even the slightest flaw within my fix of chocolate). In fact, so delicious are these dairy and gelatine free truffles, it’s not unusual to find them being showcased within Michelin-starred restaurants; a testament to the quality and flavour of The Chocolatier range.

Surprisingly, Popat isn’t from a science or food background … the former Mathematics graduate (he earned his degree at Nottingham university) went on to study Philosophy, in India, before returning to the UK to launch The Chocolatier, only two and a half years ago.

Pining for Fir Tree Truffles (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun)? Or how about a delicious Baked Bean Truffle instead … all the flavour but without the gas and bloating afterwards? Popat produces these unconventional truffles using no more than chocolate, water, fruit or vegetable purees, herbs, spices and lots of science. Incidentally, the Fir Tree Truffles were flavoured by obtaining a pine tree, removing the needles, boiling them and capturing the aroma (steam) to infuse with the chocolate. I told you the dude liked chemistry.

For the tasting session at Salon du Chocolat, Popat presented three unique flavours to sample, beginning with a smooth, sensuous Raw Coconut Bean which, Popat revealed, wasn’t tempered above 42 degrees to ensure its delightful texture and flavour: another nugget of science for you.

image

Raw Coconut Bean Truffles by The Chocolatier

Our second treat was an eye-wateringly acidic Beetroot, Red Wine Vinegar and Hazelnut ganache (the first bite was mild but the second packed one heck of a punch). All the flavours came through in stages, unfolding like a three course meal, reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s bubblegum – quirky and definitely fun!

image

Beetroot, Red Wine Vinegar & Hazelnut Truffle by The Chocolatier

To finish, we devoured a marvellous Mince Pie Truffle, produced with an actual Mince Pie (pastry included) and caramelised banana ganache – a triumph and my favourite treat of the day!

image

Mince Pie Truffle by The Chocolatier

Provenance, of course, is paramount to The Chocolatier and his ingredients are all carefully sourced, including working with chocolate brand Duffy’s original beans to produce a truffle especially for Salon du Chocolat. I would’ve expected nothing less from such a master of chocolate.

Quirky, fun, decadent and healthy, The Chocolatier‘s confectionery deserves to be on any Christmas wish list this December. It’s the ideal gift: you can eat them as an indulgent treat during the festive period or hold off until January, when you’re trying to lose the extra kilos you’ve gained from troughing through all that turkey, stuffing and cake. Now, it’s not often I get to say that about chocolate!

Salon du Chocolat in London: The Gala Evening Review

23 Oct

As Brits rejoiced in celebrating National Chocolate Week, partaking in a range of cocoa-themed events in honour of our nation’s favourite confection, an indulgent finale was unveiled to the media on Friday 18th October: Salon du Chocolat. The world’s largest chocolate show opened its doors at the Kensington Olympia National Hall – its first London outing, despite gracing no less than 23 locations across the globe since its launch in 1994.

image

Pralus' amazing praline bars

Attending the exclusive Gala evening, the exhibitor list encompassed esteemed UK and international brands, led by Rococo, Prestat, Demarquette, Lindt, Divine and Vahlrona. High expectations and greedy appetites were fulfilled within minutes of arrival: an assortment of Chocololo treats at the stall for Peckham-based chocolate shop, Melange; Château Vert truffles with citrus and caramel undertones at Chocbox; and Fudge Kitchen’s creamy Caramel Swirl. A sighting of chocolatier Paul A. Young in the crowd raised hopes that he was also exhibiting, but sadly not.

image

Comptoir du Cacao at Salon du Chocolat

Samples of velvety truffles, crunchy pralines, chewy nougat, and decadent sauces were flaunted on every stand and it was difficult to move more than three paces without succumbing to a new temptation.

image

Chocolate Treats at Salon du Chocolat

Notable discoveries ranged from a salted caramel chocolate slab from Au Palais des Gourmets to nougat made with lavender honey by La Maison du Nougat. A pistachio praline bar by French chocolatier François Pralus was superb, rivalled by Comptoir du Cacao’s Croustines (chocolate-coated crystal pieces with fruit and caramel) and Sparkling Chocolate Spread from Charles Chocolartisan.

image

Delicious nougat by La Maison du Nougat

The media frenzy at event sponsor Hotel Chocolat’s stand was entirely justified – the sighting of a bath tub filled with molten chocolate heralded a provocative display. A bikini-clad blonde slid into the tub and proceeded to bathe seductively in the warm liquid, much to the delight of mesmerised photographers. The pheromones released from within the excited crowd were palpable, emphasising the aphrodisiac properties of the confection.

image

Chocolate Spa Bath at Salon du Chocolat

Almost as awesome as the spectacle itself was the restraint of the model, who somehow refrained from insatiably slurping handfuls of the intoxicating, vanilla-scented river (willpower of which Rosemary Conley would heartily approve).

image

Hotel Chocolat’s Chocolate Spa Bath

The evening’s highlight was a much-publicised Catwalk Show, hosted by pastry chef Will Torrent, where stunning female models, clad in chocolate couture, paraded innovative collaborations between esteemed chocolatiers and fashion designers. Whilst the addition of handsome men in praline loin-cloths or nougat waistcoats would have perhaps balanced the evening’s titillation, the beautiful dresses were clever and inspired.

Favourites included: a cupcake-studded head-turner by French chocolatier and pâtisssier Madame Trignon (it took six months to perfect); a Macaron-encrusted slinky number from baker Loretta Liu of On Cafe, made using Original Beans’ rainforest collection; an earthy, feather-themed gown from Demarquette, featuring a show-stopping headpiece by Vivien Sheriff; and a funky steampunk dress from bridal wear designer Hannah Wilkins-Webb and award-winning Shropshire-based chocolatier Julia Wenlock (owner of Toot Sweets).

image

Cupcake Dress at Salon du Chocolat

image

Cupcake Dress


image

Demarquette's Chocolate Dress

image

Real Choc Leaves on Demarquette's Dress


image

Steampunk Dress - Bodice Front

image

Steampunk Dress at Salon du Chocolat

A playful night of fashion, flavour, borderline eroticism and humour, the Salon du Chocolat Gala was a feast for all the senses … and a heavenly, if fattening, excursion for chocolate lovers!

Verdict: ★★★★★

RECOMMENDED: Secret Garden Confectionery

16 Oct

It’s National Chocolate Week and, in the spirit of showing support, I have been indulging in every kind of chocolate, stuffing my face without restraint. Trying to pick a favourite variety or bar was proving difficult, until a visit to the Tuesday food market in Thomas More Square, close to historic landmark and tourist attraction, The Tower of London.

I came home with a bag of Rocky Road chocolates by Secret Garden Confectionery – blocks of creamy, milk chocolate, studded with soft marshmallow and crunchy, puffed cereal. I was hooked after one bite. Challenged not to devour the entire bag in one sitting, I had to force myself to remember that I’d actually purchased the chocs to share with my two nieces, aged 5 and 7.

image

I gave them half a block each, and remembered my manners long enough to reluctantly offer the bag to their grandparents. The problems started when they all began pestering me for more, declaring the moreish treats to be “delicious” and “yummy”. Secret Garden‘s Rocky Road is far too good to share, but denying them further access to such unbelievably tasty chocolate would have been exceptionally cruel. Fearing I’d be reported for some kind of human rights or domestic abuse, I had no choice but to succumb to their requests. Note to self: hide the next bag I buy at the back of the cupboard and tell no-one.

Secret Garden Confectinery is a regular at food festivals and Shepherds Markets’ sites across the Capital, where lovely co-founder and self-taught chocolatier, Belinda, braves the elements to showcase and sell a mouthwatering display of truffles, lollies, tablets and blocks.The seductive smell of cocoa, vanilla and spices draws you towards the stall just as much as the decadent vision of melt-in-the-mouth milk, white and dark chocolates.

image

Made using ethically-sourced products, each beautiful treat is handmade – including the toffee and honeycomb centres – at Belinda’s base in Hertfordshire. The butter and cream used within each chocolate batch (produced in small quantities to ensure freshness), is also produced locally.

Despite such high-quality ingredients and an emphasis on fair trade, Secret Garden’s product range is reasonably priced – items start at a mere £2.50: a steal for artisan chocolate! With additional special offers available for multi-buys, it’s worth stocking up if you’re planning to put together some gorgeous food hampers for family and friends this Christmas.

image

The smooth and tangy Milk Chocolate Orange Truffles are particularly addictive and the different flavoured tablet bars – crammed with fruits, spices or nuts – are sinfully sublime. There’s a luscious white chocolate Cranberry, Lemon & Macadamia; a heady Crystallised Ginger set in milk chocolate; a delectable Lime & Coconut white chocolate; a milk chocolate studded with tangy Sour Cherry, Orange and Hazelnut; and a superb Toffee Apple bar, also made with milk chocolate.

While Secret Garden‘s Rocky Road is the pathway to chocolate heaven, I also love the Chocolate Honeycomb blocks and large Chocolate Lollies – flavoursome, indulgent and rewarding; you can almost feel your brain cells doing Olympic somersaults in response to the Conga your tastebuds inevitability start dancing upon first bite. Nothing makes the body celebrate quite like the taste and feel of velvety, silken chocolate … a guaranteed high without the low of a hangover or withdrawal.

image

Confirming my thoughts is the word of two discerning little girls. Having sampled Secret Garden‘s Rocky Road bites, some of the glorious tablet bars and the milk and white Chocolate Lollies, my nieces have given the range their official seal of approval: “Yummy”. Truth from the mouths of babes … you really can’t argue with that.

To find out where you can purchase Secret Garden Confectionery visit here.

Please follow @SGConfectionery on Twitter for details of their upcoming presence at Shepherds Markets locations across London.

RECOMMENDED: Cakes by KupKase

11 Oct

Cupcakes. Hmmm. I’m a fussy person to please, particularly when it comes to the ubiquitous Red Velvet variety, but KupKase‘s Red Velvet was one of the best I have ever tried. From the first bite to the last, the rich flavour of red-tinted chocolate sponge coupled with smooth, not-too-sweet icing, was nothing short of euphoric.

There are so many cupcake makers and sellers at every food event – from markets to church fêtes – it’s easy to dismiss them all as being much the same. Lately, I’ve been feeling exactly that: cupcakes are boring and look better than they taste. That is, until I came across KupKase at Startisans, the Saturday food market at One New Change near St Pauls in London, showcasing artisan products from the latest start-ups.

image

The KupKase stall was beautiful: gold-dusted cakes topped with fresh fruits, regally perched upon cake-stand chandeliers! Kasey, the vivacious baker behind KupKase, was icing different flavoured cakes as I paused at her stall, mesmerised by the heavenly smell and twinkling colours.

image

image

image

Striking up a conversation, Kasey kindly gave me a Red Velvet cupcake to take home – a gift that I was intrigued to receive.

Red Velvet is my least favourite cake variety, thanks to most amateur bakers’ highly unappetising penchant for obliterating the chocolate sponge flavour with copious amounts of food colouring, before topping with lashings of sugar-packed frosting, rigidly set into hurricane-defying peaks. Sickly, excessively sweet and adorned with icing stiffer than a stick of chilled butter, a Red Velvet cupcake usually makes my stomach churn with dread.

Yet, there was something about Kasey’s stall that made me think I wouldn’t be disappointed. Watching her deftly ice and decorate her pretty cakes was genuinely mesmerising – and it was clear that her frosting was the perfect consistency.

image

image

Taking my cupcake home on the tube, I couldn’t wait to get indoors to eat it. Cutting it into quarters to share with loved ones, we each devoured our piece with a cup of tea, lamenting the fact that I hadn’t come home with a box of the delicious cakes rather than just one: a schoolgirl error that shall never be repeated.

KupKase‘s Red Velvet was exceptionally good – tasty, pretty and deeply gratifying. Add it to your list of cupcakes to sample before you die: KupKase is a little bite of heaven on Earth so don’t wait to kick the bucket before you try it!

You can find KUPKASE at Startisans, the weekly Saturday Food Market run by Shepherds Markets at One New Change (1 New Change, London, EC4M 9AF).

Startisans runs from 11am to 3.30pm every Saturday. The nearest tube station is St Pauls.

House of Coffee Pop-Up Café by Panasonic UK

10 Oct

Gone are the days of ugly coffee-makers bringing down the tone of modern kitchens – Panasonic’s latest espresso machine – the NC-ZA1 – is a sleek, elegant newcomer, worthy of its own exhibition space in a futuristic gallery.

The sophisticated, silver-coloured, beans-to-cup machine was unveiled to bloggers at an exclusive, all day pop-up café, called House of Coffee, housed in ‘The Caves’ – a tunnel-shaped venue near Farringdon tube station.

image

Stepping into the space, the first thing I noticed was a breathtaking series of images on the left-hand wall. Sheets of parcel wrap were adorned with stunning retro portraits by artist Cosmo Sarson. The disco-inspired images were all cleverly produced using coffee and were a fitting welcome to the ‘café’, which hosted a range of events throughout the day: breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea and a cocktail evening with a DJ set.

 

image image

image image

Opting for the brunch slot, I arrived at midday to indulge in bagels, pastries and plenty of warm, soothing coffee – it was freezing outside, despite the appearance of the sun, and I needed to defrost quickly!

image

An impressive bar area was topped with three of Panasonic’s machines and, spoilt for choice, I started off my coffee binge by asking for a Latte: not too strong and generous in quantity, preferably served in a mug.

Invited to step behind the bar to witness my drink being made, the high-tech machine had no problem in catering to my picky request. Made with hand-roasted coffee beans by Union, and served in a stylish mug printed with Cosmo’s art, my Latte was creamy, smooth and perfectly delicious.

image

image

Using the machine was simple: a touch-screen display offered Espresso, Cappuccino, Latte, Americano and Macchiato, after which further options included the desired strength of the drink and the volume – so if you fancy a super-strong double espresso or a big mug of weak Latte, you can have it within 60 seconds, all at the touch of a screen!

image

Expecting something far more complicated (which is often the case with state of the art machinery), I was surprised by the ease and speed of using the machine – so effortless, it will make even the biggest technophobe feel like a professional barista!

Coffee beans were poured into the top of the machine, which can also be fitted with an optional milk chiller – available to purchase separately for attachment to the side of the unit. Otherwise, it’s fine to use a simple jug of milk: the machine includes a handy tube to draw up the liquid without fuss.

image

Proving that coffee isn’t just for teetotal-ers, there were three varieties of coffee-laced cocktails on offer – shaken and blended by The Rum Runner (acclaimed bartender Sam Paget-Steavenson, who also made all the hot drinks).

image

Whilst I don’t usually partake in cocktails before evening, I couldn’t resist Sam’s menu and threw caution to the wind! Opting for a Madrugada (Bianco Tequila with dark chocolate, fresh mint and espresso coffee, it was crisp and refreshing, despite an earthy undertone with a minty edge!

image

image

By the time I left House of Coffee, I felt super-charged and pleasantly light-headed! I was sent on my [merry] way with a gorgeous goody bag, containing a bag of Union’s hand-roasted Equinox Seasonal Blend and a fabulous espresso cup, decorated with a portrait by Cosmo Sarson – a lovely end to a lovely afternoon.

image

The NC-ZA1 retails for around £899, with the optional milk attachment costing a further £69. For regular coffee drinkers, it’s a great investment and worth the extravagance. Sadly, it’s a bit out of my price range, but would definitely be on my Crimbo ‘wish list’ if I had a wealthy boyfriend!

There’s not much to criticise about the unit: it’s compact enough for a kitchen counter, smart enough to look elegant and it makes a damn fine cup of coffee! A great gadget and an undeniable must-have for coffee addicts.