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waiting in line

waiting in line at the boucherie, Place St Francois, Vieux Nice

Talk about a view – this was mine for a full 50 minutes last Saturday.  We waited and we waited and we waited: and then we waited some more.  All I wanted was to pick up a couple of grillades de boeuf at a great price, but the entire population of Vieux Nice descended simultaneously on la Boucherie Chez Francis, standing 12 or more deep,  with a mission to supply themselves and their extended families with sufficient meat to outlast the current geological era.  And every piece cut precisely, if you don’t mind…. We noticed a certain correlation between the apparent poverty of a customer and the exactitude they demanded of their butcher (of whom I counted 10 either working the counter or sawing away in the backroom).  Escalopes of this, paupiettes of that – yes, joint those rabbits and cut their heads in half while you’re about it.  Surely some kind of class warfare going on – the well-dressed expressed their outrage at the wait, only to be rebuffed by the garrulously painstaking staff, while each scruffy personage, once having achieved first place at the counter, prolonged their position in power for as long as their wallet extended.  Many euros and even more minutes later they would finally relinquish prime place and saunter over to the cash register to pay and collect their spoils – all bagged, tagged and delivered by overhead conveyor belt. What an amazing operation.

the crowd starts to thin

the crowd starts to thin - note mountain of orange body bags bottom left

Happily we had already bought tickets for a charity gala at Nice Opera House – a splendid neo-classical edifice with sumptuous interior – which turned out to be an evening of unmitigated musical delights and the perfect gilt-edged, velvet-trimmed, crystal-chandeliered antidote to our afternoon of waiting in line with the hoi polloi: and just a five minute walk from home through the Old Town’s pedestrianised streets.opera

Boucherie Chez Francois : Place St. Francois, Vieux Nice

Nice Opéra House : 4 & 6 rue Saint-Francois-de-Paul, 06300 Nice
Tél. 04 92 17 40 00

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Somerset House photo credit: Jan van der Crabben

A couple of weeks ago we dashed up to the Big Smoke on a sunny Saturday to catch the last weekend of the Courtauld Institute’s Cezanne exhibition – which was stunning, btw.  And what a stunning day all round: Somerset House itself; at the far eastern end of The Strand, children frolicking under its courtyard fountains in the autumn sunshine and the chiaroscuro effect of the afternoon light on the Neo-classical quadrangle’s façades filled me with a sense of satisfaction and contentment normally only induced by a lazy luncheon with a glass of wine. Or two.

My delight had much to do with having sourced our train ride snack from the countertop cornucopia of Carluccio’s caffè.  A can of San Pellegrino Limonata for me: sharp, tart and truly lemony; very grown up and tasting nothing like pop, and a tinny of Peroni birra for he. Mine came with a foil cover to keep the sipping hole clean, which doubled up nicely as a micro-plate for our delectable little savoury biscuits: one each of parmesan/herb and walnut/rosemary flavours. Mmm – crisp and crumbly with the quality of their ingredients resonating on the palate: not much more than a morsel per piece yet intensely satisfying.

I do hope the delightful Antonio is feeling better after his recent knife mishap.  His erudite books and television works are informative and entertaining, and although he is no longer involved with the caffè chain which bears his name, it’s still a civilized pleasure to stop by and shop.  Best wishes for your recovery, Mr Carluccio!

We visited another bastion of civilization that day – the ever-urbane Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly.  A lunch date elsewhere meant foregoing the joys of the 1707 cellar wine bar, but who wants to be underground on a beautiful day anyway?  I did discover, however, what the deli counter does with the leftover fat from their Pata Negra Gran Reserva ham – they send it to the kitchen, clever devils.  I was hoping to acquire it cheaply for my own devices but at F&M they’re not fools.  Instead I came home with a goodly package of saffron  – saffron indeed – salami, and a very goodly thing it turned out to be: resembling more a lomo than a salami – no casing, the meat wasn’t chopped and fat evident only in the marbling – but all the more enjoyable for it, especially at just £3 for 100g.

 The saffron-gilded edge was beautiful to behold and its flavour subtly enhanced the top notch pork flesh.  I wish I could say more about this product but there was no information on the label and my server, although charmingly helpful, knew as much as I of its provenance.  The mystery remains…anyone out there know?

 

Courtauld Gallery

Somerset House map

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Spotted at my local Saturday market: chewy snacks for the discerning doggie.

Fido\'s pick & mix
Top from left: cow throats, pig trotters, “paddy whacks” – what’s that?
Front from left: pig snouts, postman’s legs, honey roast bones

Also on display were rinds, knuckles and shanks plus a wide variety of unidentifiable edibles for – and by – animals. Although it’s good to know such things aren’t going to waste, I rather hope the credit crunch is over before we’re feeling the need to sneak them into a stew…and eating a dog’s dinner for real.  Although Mr T is such a flesh fiend he wouldn’t mind at all, I’ll be needing the fabulous, the fearless Fergus Henderson to hold my hand and show me the right way to deal with extremities: respect, Fergus!!

Fergus Henderson’s St. John Restaurants

Fergus shows Mark Bittman of The New York Times a thing or two:  

Douglas Blyde at Intoxicating Prose took a trip to St. John recently: read his review and salivate; then make your reservation.

 

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… we walk into a Menorcan distillery: undaunted by our desultory lunch at Cafe Baixamar we stuck to our plan and headed west for the Xoriguer Gin distillery tasting showroom, not much further along the Mahon waterfront.  T had the purchase of a bottle of G in mind and I tagged along: gin gives me shivers and not in a good way, but to my surprise we found a veritable kaleidoscope of balearic liqueurs set out for sampling.


And yet, like the fabled Marie Celeste, the echoing hall seemed recently abandoned, for beside each tasting barrel sat sinksful of cast-off tasting thimbles and at two in the afternoon our minds boggled at how long they might have been lying there.

So, summoning the bravado of Goldilocks and accompanied by a piped medley of classic rock tunes we set about our solitary tasting of the colourful concoctions:


Phew, well someone had to do it: there were rose, peppermint, coffee, chocolate, chamomile, herb, orange and some kind of butterscotch flavours; plus gin of course.  In memory – as in throat – they coalesce into a sickly sweet melange; my glee was short-lived and after downing a couple all I really wanted to do was brush my teeth, but we soldiered on, doggedly determined to do justice to the full, bewildering range.

Our verdict? I wouldn’t like to say, but we left without buying any and drank an awful lot of water afterwards.   Yet with free entry and air conditioning, I can think of worse ways to idle an odd hour in Mahon, tummy lining and teeth notwithstanding.  Needless to say, gin still makes me queasy.

Gin Xoriguer distillery
Moll de Ponent 93
Maó
971 36 21 97
entry free; open most shop hours
website

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A pilgrimage to Ikea is unsanctified without a trip to Wing Yip for a foodster fix.  Croydon’s oriental alimentary emporium has really been snazzing itself up lately; witness the snappy slogan for a start – I love it.  It’s also all smart uniforms and smiles nowadays – nothing wrong with that; in the time of inscrutable scowling I used to feel like an interloper adrift – just so long as they stop short of employing greeters at the door, I’m a happy punter.

Marketing pundits advocate aerosoling the scent of bread baking to foster a super-duper supermarket experience but that ruse is getting pretty tired; we’ve all cottoned on to their cotton-wool loaves.  Wing Yip has come up with something much more evocative: the stinky sock stench of durian filled our nostrils the second we breached the threshold.  Yummy – seriously. I can’t decide which part of this freaky fruit is my favourite – the foetid aroma, the weird succulent flesh or its viciously spiky carapace: don’t ever try to carry one home in your arms, it will hurt you.  Anyway, at £5.95 a kilo and not one weighing less than three we regretfully declined this time.  My hunt for durian flavoured wafers continues, however.  I opened a pack once at work in Vancouver and next thing I knew they’d evacuated the building, convinced of a gas leak.  Try this if you’re not keen on your job, but if you do please let me know where you got the biscuits.

With domestic relocation imminent (hence the Ikea mission) I’m supposed to be running down the stocks so it was just a couple of bags of whitebait, some Panko, a wasabi refill and an assortment of frozen seafood.  I did, however, purchase one of these reusable stunners to carry them home:

and for 84p Anya Hindmarch can eat my shorts. :mrgreen:

Wing Yip Croydon superstore
544 Purley Way
Croydon
CR0 4NZ
Tel: 020 8688 4880

Wing Yip online shop

Deciding if a durian is decent
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fregola grains
Last time I visited Fortnum & Mason I picked up a packet of fregola sarda.  Interesting stuff, fregola: it’s pasta, but of Sardinian origin and in appearance it’s couscous on steroids, reminiscent of pollen grains at a billion magnification.  Also, unlike any pasta I can think of, fregola nuggets are toasted, which not only explains the colour variations, but also adds quite a bit of flavour complexity – well, for pasta anyway – due to the Maillard Reactions.  Cooked, fregola makes interesting eating; having been dried v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y it makes for a goodly chew, and the starch on the surface of each mini boule of semolina thickens the broth slightly: I hesitate to use the term slime for reasons obvious, but aficionados will appreciate my meaning.  It’s novel, but delicious and satisfying.

Fregola Sarda is traditionally served in a shellfish broth and with a surprisingly sunny afternoon putting us all in a Mediterranean mood a credible combination came to mind.  I should say here that although using both seafood and bottarga could be construed as gilding the lily – it’s conventional to have either one or the other – my seafood happened to be a frozen assortment from oriental emporium Wing Yip (into which I may sneak again on Saturday) so it needed a bit of a fishy kick and bottarga put the boot in beautifully.    In this neck of the woods, if it’s even possible it’s pretty pricey to get hold of sparkly seafood, so I stand by my sources: not quite tradizionale, but neither travesty – it’s a kind of cucina povera after all – simmer down you puritanical purists, we’ve got other fish to fry…


fregola sarda with seafood and bottarga

fregola sarda with seafood and bottarga

Fregola Sarda with Seafood and Bottarga

serves 4

  • 3 TBS olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, sliced fine
  • 4 handfuls of frozen mixed seafood (squid, mussels, octopus, prawns)
  • 4 fillets frozen pollack
  • 3 chopped tomatoes or 3 TBS tomato paste or 250 ml passata
  • a couple of fennel stalks, if available
  • a pinch of saffron if wished
  • crumbled chile if you like
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • water or stock to top up
  • 4 tsp bottarga, grated

For the fregola:

  • 400-500 g fregola sarda
  • 1 litre fish stock – use a cube, concentrate, whatever
  • 1 TBS capers
  • 2 spring onions or a small bunch of chives, chopped
  • chopped fresh parsley, fennel, mint (any permutation you like)

Heat the garlic gently in the olive oil to release the fragrance, but don’t allow it to brown.   Add the white white wine and tomato, bubble up then turn the heat down to a simmer.   Throw in any or all of the flavourings if using, then sit the seafood and fish fillets atop to steam; cover and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes or so until the fish is opaque.  If there is insufficient liquid to go round, top up with a little hot stock or water.

While the seafood is cooking, bring the fish stock to a boil in another pan then tip in the fregola.   Mine took 15 minutes to cook, but follow the instructions on your pack as different brands vary.  When cooked al dente, drain the fregola in a colander then toss with the capers and chopped herbs.

Serve in shallow bowls as in the pic above, fregola on one side, seafood on the other.  Moisten the fregola with the tomato broth and sprinkle all with a little grated bottarga – and unlike me, try to remember lemon on the side for squeezing; saving a little chopped parsley to counterbalance the lurid orange wouldn’t go amiss either – buon appetito!

Footnote: this weekend’s Financial Times carries an interesting article on pollack – cheap, abundant and relatively eco-friendly – with chef endorsements and some valuable cooking advice from Anthony Demetre of Wild Honey and Arbutus; worth checking out.

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I read Nigel Slater religiously for years, but of late this gastro hag’s favourite fag has me feeling like an asylum seeker on the wrong side of a razor-wire fence.  Sophisticated as my crowded corner of Blighty sees itself, it’s outside the orbital, pretty far from any gastro-shopping epicenter and a long way from urban allotments.

Sure, I check out the local farmers’ markets, and yes, I visit local farm shops, but even so I lack access to the exotica veggie cornucopia enjoyed by a Londoner and moreover I’m a plod, so hauling my ass up to New Covent Garden for 6 am just ain’t gonna happen, and a train ticket to Borough market would up my grocery bill by a good twenty quid; not to mention supersizing my carbon footprint.  So what’s a gourmet girl to do?

A: Visit Waitrose and find these emerald gems to go home with. Frying tonight!


pic and recipe to follow….gotta cook and eat ’em first

200g bag £2.99 at Waitrose

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