Danish oyster boot camp (look away now if you don’t like oysters)

As you might have noticed from my rather oyster-centric Twitter feed, last week I spent a few days in Denmark snuffling out oysters. The trip coincided with Denmark’s Oyster Week – an event aimed at raising awareness about the country’s oyster production.

We traveled to the Wadden Sea Centre (a UNESCO World Heritage Centre) in Ribe, South West Jutland which, aside from being a haven for many species of migratory birds, is populated by thousands upon thousands of Pacific oysters, which we waded 6km (in the fetching waders, above) to pluck from their beds. Unfortunately I made the foolish decision to leave my waterproof in Brixton, which meant I got thoroughly soaked by the pelting rain – but it was kind of worth it when we tasted the oysters fresh from the sea, and Kasper, our tour leader cracked a bottle of Moet.

It was a good job we worked up an appetite, because that night we were treated to an absolute feast by English chef Paul Cunningham, who’s now cooking at Henne Kirkeby Kro in the wild West of the country – quite a contrast from his former kitchen at The Paul in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens. Paul won a Michelin-star for his food at The Paul, and I’m sure it won’t be long until the stars come shining down on him here – where he’s using the extensive kitchen garden for the freshest ingredients, and making use of his rural ingredients for the best supplies. It was great to see the big man (he’s hard to miss, at over six foot) so happy and relaxed in his new environment, as towards the end of his time at Tivoli things were pretty fraught.

Paul is a maestro of flavour. He’s not afraid to put bold tastes together on the plate (a native oyster cooked on a Green Egg with Marmite, butter and toasted rye bread is one such example), but he rarely misfires, and manages to always get the balance just right. His love of good food is tangible when you eat his dishes – they are original, distinctive and memorable, a bit like the chef himself.

Check out this fantastic video of Henne Kirkeby Kro by First XI:

The next day it was on to Glyngore – a historic fishing harbour where we met the wonderful oyster producer Sven, who fishes for the most delicious native oysters and blue-lipped mussels from the Limfjord, which is renowned for its special, mineral rich waters. After being shown around the production site, where oysters for restaurants including Noma are graded and packed, he cooked us a wonderful oyster-based tasting menu.

Then is was time to don those waders again and search out some of our own natives in the Limfjord. Sadly, my waders leaked and I managed to get totally soaked, which I think may have inhibited my oyster catching abilities (or at least that’s my excuse), but some of us found some. Others netted some spider crabs, which apparently tasted good, but looked too much like actual arachnids for my liking…

You can read about the trip, producers and food in more detail in my forthcoming article for FOUR magazine.

Photos by Kasper Fogh

Brooklyn Bites: Governor, DUMBO

I landed in JFK in the midsts of a fleeting tornado. But they didn’t tell us that on the plane: “Ladies and gentlemen, there’s some cloud, wind and rain over JFK at the moment so we’re going to hold off landing until it’s cleared a little bit. We’ll be coming down in about 15 minutes, and you may experience some turbulence.” Diplomatically put. The whole cabin clapped and cheered when we landed with a not-very-fun amount of force that had most of the married couples around me closing their eyes, holding hands and suspending their long-held atheism to mutter quiet pleas under their breaths. The two-year-old next to me slept through the whole thing – something reassuring about that.

Brooklyn was sticky hot. The skies were black and it was pouring with rain. I drank a few cups of coffee and had a dip in the Aloft hotel’s pool to try and trick my body into believing it wasn’t really 1am, before heading out to the hottest new spot in town for a some culinary R&R.

Governor, which comes from the team behind Brooklyn Heights’ much acclaimed Colonie and DUMBO’s Gran Electrica, sits on a characterful, cobbled street by the waterfront and – with its warm lighting, huge glass windows and chic, well-designed interior – beckoned me in like only the promise of a good restaurant can.

In the two months since it opened, this place has been earning itself a good rep (including this two star review from the New York Times this week), which is not surprising given that the chef – one Brad McDonald – a softly spoken, Mississippi-born 32-year-old, has worked at Noma and Per Se. The 60-cover restaurant is split over three levels – a sweet little cocktail bar when you enter, where the barman kindly whipped me up a smooth, perky concoction of gin, grapefruit, pastis and egg white, and then the main floor with banquette seating and an open kitchen with a short counter where you can sit and watch McDonald and his 11 chefs do their thing. We were sat on the rather nice mezzanine level, which has dark wooden floors and views over the whole restaurant and kitchen, and is presided over by a small and attentive team of front of house staff.

And so to the food. McDonald describes it as “New American”. And what does he mean by that, exactly? Is it a la New Nordic? “I’m not sure yet,” he told me with a smile. “It’s a reflection of what American culture is, which is a melting pot. As a chef you can gain freedom by drawing on different cultures, and we do that in the way we treat locally-sourced ingredients. Some ‘New American’ chefs are taking traditional recipes like clam chowder and making them modern – we’re taking local ingredients and making them unique to us. In terms of technique – that comes from all over the place – places I’ve worked and seen have influenced that.”

All of this becomes clearer when the dishes – which vary from riffs on classic flavours to something altogether more esoteric – start to arrive. We begin with the snacks. Warm, crusty sourdough that’s made fresh in the restaurant everyday comes with a plate of fresh, crunchy, peppery radishes and a slick of thick, creamy house churned butter that’s topped with crunchy dehydrated chunks of cheese rind (a sort of in-house salt).

Then there’s the delicate, melt-away tapioca crackers filled with beautiful hand-chopped beef tartare, bound together by a subtle, but umami-laden mussel emulsion with ramp capers (capers made from the buds of wild ramps – a wild American allium), and topped with rocket. Pork gets its moment too, in the form of pickled trotter – cubes of glistening, succulent, gelatinous pig foot, lifted with astringency from the pickling, with velvety chunks of spicy eggplant on an aerated pork skin cracker: a well balanced, textural mouthful.

My favourite of these palate perkers though is the poached oysters on toast: small slices of the toasted sourdough forming a pleasingly crunchy backdrop for the luxuriant oysters, which have lost none of their iodine tone in the careful poaching, and are doused with an intense lobster emulsion – as heady as any bisque and garnished with pretty little garlic flowers.

Smoked tomato tartare is another revelation: clean cubes of soft, lightly smoked tomato flesh intensified by a deep, creamy mousse of mackerel, punctuated with crispy little fried sourdough croutons and purslane leaves that taste of green.

There were some uneasy side glances in my party with regards to a couple of the menu items. The first was labelled ‘live sea scallop, ponzu sauce and cilantro oil’ and I think evoked visions of large, pulsating molluscs sliding around the plate. In reality what came was a thing of beauty – a pearlescent scallop shell bearing delicate cubes of sweet, almost translucent raw scallop wonderfully matched to the citric ponzu and fragrant coriander oil. The dish was finished with a slick of house-made soy sauce, which was fuller and more flavourful than any soy I’ve ever tasted – the fermentation process palpable in its savoury depth of flavour.

McDonald explained to me how he inoculates soy beans and then leaves them in the restaurant’s cellar to ferment in order to make the sauce. “It means a lot to us to learn the process of making. So instead of pulling a soy sauce off the shelf, we’re making it ourselves, and generally we’re trying to do as much of the production as we can in-house, which I suppose is a more European approach,” he says.

Another dish that speaks of this very artisan ethos was the other controversial one. And it was controversial insomuch as it was a celery root dish and we had a celery sceptic in our midsts. I say ‘had’ here very deliberately because McDonald’s rendering of the ingredient just may have cured our celery cynic of his dislike of the ingredient, cleverly disguised as it was as mac n cheese. The chef had cooked thin ribbons of the vegetable like pasta, added lemon for freshness and smothered it in a smooth, creamy sauce of powerful American cheddar. Topping it off were waxy yellow flakes of preserved egg yolk that had been grated over the top adding a cheesy, salty kick. The dish was a real gem – at once familiar and entirely new – the strange, distinctive celery notes adding a whole other dimension to something traditionally considered low brow comfort food.

McDonald later showed me how he makes the preserved egg yolks, by sourcing embryonic eggs (which are just the yolks in the early stages) from his butcher, covering them in salt, sugar and black pepper, leaving them for a week, air drying and freezing them. It’s a big process for something that’s a tiny element of a dish – but it’s worth it for the distinctive flavour it adds, and this obsessive attention to the tiniest detail is what makes eating here so special. It speaks of the sort of thoughtful, trailblazing restaurants McDonald has cut his teeth in, and situates him among the cheffing elite.

But simplicity is also done well here. A bowl of sweet, fresh summer beans and shishito peppers – each one perfectly cooked, comes swimming in boisterous whipped-up salt cod and topped with a ruby drizzle of chorizo oil, which is spicy and almost fruity. It’s a stunning combination.

I’m still not sure what ‘Amish quail’ is exactly, but I do know that it was cooked until yieldingly tender and tasted delicious served alongside the best foie gras I’ve ever eaten: intensely salted and charred on the outside and wonderfully sweet, unctuous and light/creamy within. This came with spigarello: a sort of wild American spinach and a complex and addictive miso-squash caramel.

That epic ensemble brought us to the end of the savoury courses, and was followed by a flurry of distinctive, brilliantly executed desserts that included celery root cake (another hit with our reformed celery phobe) with pickled meringue and grape sorbet, which sounds incredibly weird but ate very well, and an impressive honey soufflé with an earl grey creme anglaise that spoke of some seriously well-fed bees.

Next time you’re any where near Brooklyn, I’d recommend booking a table at this joint. Because I’m pretty sure that pretty soon, that won’t be very easy.

Nashville Nosh: The Catbird Seat

Sometimes when I mentioned to people that I was going on holiday to Nashville their eyes would glaze over. “Why would you go to Nashville? It’s known as ‘Nash Vegas,'” said the girl I met while eating some surprisingly good sushi at Charlotte airport during the wait for my connecting plane. People think it’s all country music and moonshine – and yes, there is a lot of that, but in the last few years Nashville has been reinventing itself, becoming known not just for its country music heritage, but for its brilliant garage rock bands – and for a new breed of food and drink places, that, when added to the Southern institutions already here, situate this Tennessee city as one of the most exciting places to eat in the US.

As readers of this blog might have noticed, I’ve become increasingly interested in American cuisine over the past couple of years, spending some time in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and starting a French Dip sandwich stall in Brixton. When the chance came up to visit the South – home to some of the most interesting and distinctive of American cooking (as recently seen on menus from New York to London), it was just too good to miss. I had the added advantage of travelling with a friend who is from here, and whose parents kindly guided us through some of the must-visit places.

I’m going to be writing about Nashville for the Guardian so I won’t give everything away here, but here’s a post about two of the most remarkable places we’ve been so far.

Patterson House is a pre-Prohibition era style cocktail bar in a 17th century property in the Vanderbilt area of the city. It’s all dim lighting, dark wood, leather banquettes, antique metal ceiling tiles and very good cocktails – in the manner of places like The Varnish in LA or London’s Worship Street Whistling Shop. I go for a sharp and simple gimlet  – while the knowledgeable barman whips up a spicy, sour, fruity virgin creation for my friend who’s the designated driver.

Patterson House is part of the trailblazing Strategic Hospitality group of local venues, co-founded by local entrepreneur brothers Ben and Max Goldberg, and we also had seats at their new-ish restaurant which has quickly become the hottest culinary spot in town – The Catbird Seat – conveniently situated just upstairs.

The Catbird Seat is a chef’s table of restaurant with a total of 30 seats wrapped around the open kitchen where the two chefs – Erik Anderson and Josh Habiger, and their two sous work together to create and serve delicious seven course tasting menus. Erik and Josh met at the temple to Modernist gastronomy that is Alinea in Chicago (which you can read about here), and between them have worked at some of the world’s top restaurants, including Noma, The Fat Duck and The French Laundry. But rather than opening something in the fine dining mould of their former employers, with fawning front of house or 30-cook kitchens, the chefs came up with a plan to collaborate on a restaurant that would give them the chance to, as Josh puts it “cut out the middle man” and cook, serve and chat to the diners during service. Since it opened at the tail-end of last year, the restaurant has received a slew of accolades, including being named among America’s top ten new restaurants by American GQ, semi-finalling for a James Beard new restaurant award, with Josh and Erik being named Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs 2012.

Weirdly, it turns out that Erik was working at Noma the same time that I visited last year – so it may well be that I had unknowingly already been cooked for by him.

Left, Erik Anderson, right Josh Habiger

The food was a procession of brilliantly conceived courses, each with a few ingredients on the plate – put together with such relaxed flair by the chefs – who seemingly dance around each other finishing each other’s dishes – that you wouldn’t guess at the technical complexity behind them. The meal starts with some Southern-inspired ‘snacks’ – a beautiful oyster with oyster and yuzu puree, a corn bread cooked in duck fat and a piece of chile flavoured chicken skin – a riff on the famous Nashville hot chicken.

Each course was matched to an alcoholic beverage, beautifully chosen by the sommelier Jane, who the chefs knew from Chicago and who has a playful penchant for creating her own carbonated concoctions – such as this sake mixed with maple syrup delight.

Steak tartare was an elegant, nuanced take on the robust French classic, with chive flowers, ‘caper butts’, horse radish cream and Arctic char roe. A dish of braised and grilled pork belly came with pickled carrots, violet foam and a cold soup of ramps (local wild leeks), watercress and lavender – the rich, salty, fatty meat melting into the fresh, smooth green soup – the whole thing lifted by the light, floral violet foam.

This was one of my favourite dishes – a beautifully cooked piece of wood pigeon with white asparagus tips and hay-infused, caramelised yoghurt. The bird was served with the arm still on and the fat had been beautifully rendered into a golden crisp, with the pinky red, deep meat inside brilliantly offset by the woody, piquant yoghurt. According to Erik it was inspired by the tradition of cooking squab pigeon in hay, mixed with his Scandi influences.

This was an amazing creation: rabbit with veal mousse and nduja, served with snap peas. A fantastic combination of flavours. Also, you could put nduja with pretty much anything and I’d eat it.A delicious maple-infused egg custard with a salty bacon crisp. 
Dessert was brilliant – a dish of air-light cherry crisp with pineapple jelly, vanilla cake, oak ice cream and bourbon balls which burst in the mouth into little hits of alcohol – the sweet of the fruit and vanilla balanced by the creamy, smoky ice cream.
Catbird Seat’s food sets it apart from the other restaurants in the city thanks to its use of progressive cooking techniques and imaginative, avant garde combinations, but what makes it particularly remarkable is the way that these two chefs have decided to collaborate in such a way, cooking in full view of their diners. Here, food lovers who are so often shrouded from the excitement and theatre of the kitchen can get a rare and thrilling glimpse of two chefs at the top of their game working side by side with all the ease and cadence of a well-rehearsed rock band. And they have tattoos to match. Well, we are in Music City USA.

Audio: Angela Hartnett and Gabrielle Hamilton in conversation

Audio: Angela Hartnett and Gabrielle Hamilton in conversation from Rosie Birkett on Vimeo.

A couple of weeks ago I had the serious career highlight of being sent by Nowness.com to cover Angela Hartnett and New York chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s collaboration as part of the ‘Girls Night Out’ cooking series – a celebration of six of the world’s best female chefs. You can read about that, and see some fantastic photos from snapper Leigh Johnson here.

It’s fair to say both of these ladies are something of an inspiration. Angela Hartnett is the trailblazing London chef who made her name under Gordon Ramsay before going on to buy her Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant Murano from him in 2010. Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef patron of Prune restaurant in New York, which she has been running for 12 years. Last year she published her candid chef memoir ‘Blood, Bones and Butter‘ to great acclaim, and won the prestigious James Beard NYC Chef of the Year award for her East Village eatery.

Here is an audio interview I recorded with the two women at Shoreditch House, during which they talk about how they came to cook together, their shared love of Italian cuisine, and their views on the male/female chef divide – or lack thereof. Enjoy!

Photo courtesy of Leigh Johnson

Noma: a video

Fishy Æbleskiver at Noma
Fishy Æbleskiver at Noma

Savoury biscuits, as described by Sam in the vid

Hay smoked quails' eggs

I have a very shameful confession to make. Last summer I went to Noma in Copenhagen – René Redzepi’s temple to New Nordic cuisine which currently holds the ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ accolade – and enjoyed one of the most delicious and extraordinary meals of my life. And I didn’t blog about it. Not one thing. I suppose I couldn’t find the words. But I did manage to shoot some very shaky footage on my iPhone, which, having just purchased my first Mac (about time right?) I have been able to fashion into something resembling a video of parts of our meal. I think it’s quite a good way of representing the food we enjoyed, because so much of it had an interactive element that is hard to portray in print. Anyway, please excuse the strange sound quality and amateur editing. I will get better!

Noma, Copenhagen from Rosie Birkett on Vimeo

Peter Gilmore’s Coral Garden on Nowness.com

I was lucky enough to interview the lovely Australian chef Peter Gilmore for Nowness.com. We talked about the making of visual artists Chayka Sofia‘s wonderful video of his ‘Coral Garden’ dish, which is a culinary translation of the undulating splendour of the coral reef.

I love writing for Nowness because their content is always original, well thought-out and visually beautiful. Hopefully you’ll see more from me there in the future.

My new favourite place: Ducksoup

Harissa with creme fraiche and burnt lemon

Believe the buzz. Ducksoup – and I’m not talking about the 1933 Marx Brothers film – is the shizzle. Or at least, it was when I lunched there last week – packed tightly into my rickety wooden chair on the tiny, jewel box ground floor of Soho’s latest small plates restaurant. As I dashed inside, out of the freakish heat, I noticed that the faded ‘Zilli’ logo was still visible on the restaurant’s sun curtain (I know there’s another word for that – help me out please, someone?), but this is a far cry from the vegetarian celeb cheffery of its predecessor. On the bar  – which takes up the majority of the small room – was a handsome looking ham, and some Tête de Moine, and behind it stood the unshaven Julian Biggs (below) – the former executive chef from Hix restaurants, who has struck out on his own with ex Hix Oyster & Chop restaurant manager Rory McCoy to open this place.

Wines, many of them natural (I spotted the divine Alsation biodynamic grower Binner’s Les Saveurs Alsace 2009) are written up on the blackboard, and there’s a very pretty copper stand temptingly filled with chilling fizz. We were in a hurry, and this was a working lunch, so we just went for tap water – which was gracefully brought in a little ceramic jug.

hand-written menu

The biro-scrawled menus are adorable, but cutest of all is the restaurant’s ‘bring your own vinyl‘ policy, whereby you can put your own records on the little player that sits on a shelf near the corner. We lunched to the nostalgic harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel, and I couldn’t help fantasising about what might happen if I disrupted the cool vibe by busting out my Wings (“only the band the Beatles could’ve been”)  EP…

Ducksoup is one of those places that is good value, but not cheap. Small plates are £7 and bigger, main-sized portions are double that at £14, which makes sense. You’re paying for quality produce here, and, thanks to the accomplished cooking, you can really taste it. It’s very much in the St John/Terroirs school of not putting more than three or four ingredients on each plate – with vibrant flavour combinations and everything impeccably fresh. Despite being a former Hix boy, Biggs is very much looking to the Med here – there’s a lot of olive oil, herbs and regional cheeses. We shared the toast with lardo, girolles and parmesan – which was fresh, juicy and moreish:

lardo toast with girolles and parmesan

Then came the plump, tender lamb cutlets, grilled until the fat had caramelised and crisped – but still moist and juicy and simply dressed with fresh torn marjoram and a delicious slick of fruity olive oil.

Lamb cutlets with marjoram

Our third and final dish was the star dish, and had me chewing on the bones, trying desperately to get the most minute scrap from the carcass – it was that good. One perfect golden little quail, nicely seasoned and served with brilliant simplicity, accompanied by just half a burnt lemon and a bowl of crème fraiche which was marbled with saffron-coloured harissa. Harissa goes so bloody well with quail! And the crème fraiche gave a piquant, indulgent edge to the dish. I just wish we’d ordered the big one.

Quail, crème fraiche, harissa and burnt lemon

Our bill came to to £28 for two, which isn’t bad – but we didn’t have wine or dessert. Go to Ducksoup I’d say, go and eat all you can while you can still get a table.

41 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 4PY

Photo blog: Sven Elverfeld at Aqua

Today I have an article published in the Independent about Sven Elverfeld, a three-Michelin starred chef in Germany whose inventive renderings of his national cuisine has put the unremarkable industrial town of Wolfsburg on the global food map.

You can read the piece here, and below are some photos from my visit. Enjoy!

Sven in his kitchen
Sven and his lab-to-kitchen kit

This is a machine that the chef got from a science lab. “It makes a 26000 rotations in a minute and with it I can make a toffee.” Said toffee is a sticky mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The kitchen at Aqua
The pastry chef making yoghurt balls with liquid nitrogen
The yoghurt ball
A big bowl of woodruff
A lovely dish of cod with morels and fresh peas
Simmered corned beef from Müritz lamb with Frankfurt-style green sauce, potato and egg
That wonderful woodruff and rhubarb dessert

The Paul, Copenhagen – a last lunch

On returning to Copenhagen for a second time this year, the first thing we did was go and eat at British chef Paul Cunningham’s Michelin-starred restaurant The Paul, which is set inside the 1800s children’s amusement park Tivoli. Walking into The Paul is a bit like what I imagine it might be like walking into Cunningham’s subconscious. The octagonal, summer-house-esque interior is flooded with natural light, and drips with the chef’s own photography, artwork he has commissioned, and little trinkets, curiosities and oddities he’s collected along the way. I had been a few months ago (though not to eat as the restaurant was closed for a refurb) to interview Paul for Chef Magazine, and I had heard from his peers Claude Bosi and Sat Bains that this chef’s cooking was bold, original and innovative – much like the man himself. It was nice to be back. It was also rather fortuitous, given that, as the chef’s charming maître d’ brought us over delicious little snacks to eat with our champagne, Paul dropped the bombshell that he is closing.

The 42-year-old chef explained that he’s come as far as he can at Tivoli. “If I don’t make a break now, I’ll be pensioned at Tivoli. I want to do something much more creative. I’m not closing down – I’m closing down The Paul. There’s nothing definite yet but between now and the 24th of September [The Paul’s last supper] something will be set. I can’t wait. The Paul will be put into the archives and ‘P2′ is the working title of the new project.”

Cunningham, who insists he’ll take his staff with him wherever he goes next, is not short of offers – and is considering projects in Denmark, London and Provence. “I’ve reinvented myself many times over the last ten years and I can’t do any more in Tivoli,” he said. “I feel happier and more content than I have in a long time and I’m very excited about the future.”

So it was with both excitement and a sense of  privilege that we sat down inside The Paul to enjoy what was to be our first and last meal there. And it didn’t disappoint. We had the chef’s summer menu. Here is our meal in words and pictures.

Oyster & Rossini caviar, cauliflower

This was a lovely light start. The oysters were plump, juicy iodine hits softened by the creamy cauliflower puree. I liked the textural intrigue here – the fresh, crunchy caulie against the pearly caviar and froth. A delectable start.

new potatoes, mussels, lemon verbena & smoke
new potatoes, mussels, scallops, lemon verbena & smoke

In the nicest possible sense, this dish reminded me of the flavour of Frankfurters. Something to do with the meaty mussels and the smoked scallops together. It was umami central and the bouillon was intense and moreish, the potato lending an earthy, comforting edge and the verbena powder a fragrant note.

Raviolo – beans, ibérico, mint and tomato water

I can still taste this. The salty, deep ham forming a lovely melting envelope around the most vital peeled broad beans. The clear tomato consomme was so refreshing – like inhaling inside my dad’s old green house – and the mint was a stroke of genius, lifting the dish wonderfully. The flavours here are simple and it really works: summer in a bowl.

Black garlic, grilled summer onion, charred monkfish

This dish was mega. I love the way it has so few ingredients but has the utmost impact. Black garlic (amazingly umami-rich fermented garlic) is an ingredient that is starting to get some real gourmet attention. I first heard about it from Sven Elverfeld who uses it at Aqua, and there have been some threads about it on Chowhound too. It’s so delicious: deep, sticky and mellow in its garlic-ness. Here Paul had cooked loads of it with butter (see below) and made it into a smooth paste that worked beautifully with the plump, moist monkfish and simply grilled onion.

Black garlic butter
Garden herbs, yoghurt, Himmerland sweetbreads & salted lemon

I’m not the world’s biggest sweetbread fan (there – I said it), but these were fab. Moist and juicy and coated in a light, crunchy batter, with some great acidity from the yoghurt, and a lovely fresh green edge from the herbs. I was starting to get a bit full by this point though…

guinea fowl Jean-Claude, coffee, chanterelles & capers

This is one of those dishes that when the chef was describing it to me I was seriously wondering if it was going to work – especially when he used the words ‘praline’ and ‘coffee’. But it absolutely did. The guinea fowl – which is a favourite of mine – was cooked to perfection; one piece coated in a sweet, crunchy praline, the other slowly cooked in a deep but subtle coffee jus, which really brought out the flavour of its intense poultry fat. The mushrooms complimented the whole thing with their succulent, juicy texture and the fried capers (only ever had them done like this at Viajante) gave a sharp, crunchy edge.

We didn’t have room for desserts, but this was one  of the most accomplished and vibrant meals of my year and I do encourage anyone who is planning a trip to CPH before the summer is out to get booked in. But for  those of you who can’t, watch this space for more news on Cunningham, because something tells me that whatever he does next is going to be even more wonderful…

Matching glasses

Last week in food: steak frites, Angels and Gipsies, Wimbledon and Roganic

Last week was rather epic in eating out terms. It all kicked off on Wednesday with a meal at the City outpost of Le Relais de Venise with some friends I was recently in France with. We needed an excuse to consume lots of calories while drinking cold rosé and feeling vaguely like we were still across the channel. And boy did it work –  I know the place has had some flack for its ‘special sauce’ and faddy concept (and OK, it is a little bit like a French-themed Betty’s tearoom), but from the minute I walked in I felt like I was in France. I love that they write on the paper table cloths. I love the no-choice menu, and I love the fact you get two helpings of steak and sauce, with as many of those gorgeous little frites as its humanly possible to consume. After our third bottle of wine we were even smoking the things. HILARIOUS. We moved on to the Anthologist for a nightcap Aperol spritz. It’s the cocktail of the summer I tell you!

Meal of dreams at Le Relais de Venise

Thursday night was more local – a friend’s birthday in Camberwell, at none other than the highly-regarded Angels and Gypsies. Aside from being a sure sign of the area’s growing gentrification, the restaurant is bloody beautiful inside. Bare brick walls, stained glass windows and a big, imposing round bar bearing handsome ham legs and special wines on the blackboard. My mouth was watering before I even sat down. A flippant peek at the wine list resulted in an incredibly high pitched squeal as I realised that one of the most affordable wines on the list was none other than the wine I had tasted and brought back from my aforementioned trip to France.  It was a Chateau Unang Côtes du Ventoux 2009, a blend of Clairette and Roussanne made on a small scale by a very passionate, Scottish biodynamic wine maker, and the very wine we’d travelled in my friend @sophiedening’s 30-year old Nissan truck (called ‘Le Mary’) to degust.  Here we were, in the depths of Camberwell and there it was, one of the first things on the wine list, and very fairly priced at £18. We drank it throughout our meal, with dishes of deliciously creamy prawn croquettes, broad beans, peas and crispy, salty ham, steak with quails’ eggs and wonderfully garlicy sauteed potatoes.

Angels and Gypsies in Camberwell

Friday saw me fulfil a bit of a dream of watching some live Nadal action at Wimbledon, thanks to the very ample hospitality of Compass’ Restaurant Associates. As someone who worked for three years as a ‘night steward’ at the Championships (basically standing around from 8pm-8am with a walkie talkie, looking after the somewhat eccentric folk that sleep overnight for ground passes), it was rather nostalgic to be back, walking past the stewards in their high vis jackets, remembering the care-free days of uni. But this was to be an altogether more civilised affair than my summer job’s midnight lunches in the empty, neon-lit Media Centre, where we traded in coupons for hot meals. We lunched in the Gatsby Club – the RA’s corporate hospitality venue in the cricket ground opposite the tennis compound, and very good it was too. It started with smoked salmon and beets (pictured), followed by the most delicious stuffed quail with morels and an intense chicken jus. It was restaurant standard, and remarkable given that the room was seating a couple of hundred at least. About twenty minutes in I got to shake the hand of none other than the legendary Albert Roux, who had consulted on the menu and was doing the rounds.

Smoked salmon at The Gatsby Club

After a few hours of tennis, during which the humourless Sharapova thrashed determined and plucky Brit Laura Robson, we retreated back to the Club for an afternoon tea of finger sandwiches, scones and clotted cream – during which a debate ensued as to whether to spread the cream or jam first. We concluded that jam should go on first, based on someone’s comment that the cream should stand proud above the jam. I’ll second that. An hour of Nadal and Muller followed, which was cut short for a very good reason: I had an evening reservation at Roganic, Simon Rogan’s new Marylebone restaurant.


Roganic stands next to Trishna on Blandford Street and Rogan (the Michelin-starred chef patron of Cumbria’s dazzling L’Enclume) only has the lease for two years. There is some talk that this could change, and I sincerely hope it will. In Cumbria, the chef’s food is centred on local produce – much of which is grown on his organic Howbarrow Farm, and sourced from small suppliers in the region. Here, the young chef @benspalding who’s at the helm, has a bigger net for produce, but the food is still reflecting Rogan’s light, inventive style and knack for flavour combinations. It’s a tiny, doll’s house-esque space decorated very simply, but in a very chic way (that’s down to Penny Tapsell, the chef’s partner), and the service is informed, relaxed and knowledgeable – just as it should be. This being Rogan, there is an element of surprise and fun – the dinner menu is ten-course and no-choice, and there are sweet little flourishes – like the fact that the creamy butter, which is jewelled with salt crystals is slathered on a ‘hand-picked’ Folkstone beach rock, and water tumblers are made out of recycled beer bottles by “convicts in Cardiff”.

Said rock and glasses

A dish of salt-baked turnip with smoked yolk and sea vegetables was fantastic – the smokiness of the yolk adding a rich depth to the other ingredients:

Scarlet ball turnip baked in salt, smoked yolk

But my absolute favourite had to be the Kentish mackerel, cured in seawater and served with an elderflower honey. Mackerel and honey? Who’d have thought that would be a nice combo? Simon Rogan of course! It’s a masterful dish, the fish lightly cured and falling-apart fresh, its savoury flavour lifted by the delicate, floral honey and the whole thing given a lively crunch by some very thinly-sliced onion and baby broccoli.

Seawater cured Kentish mackerel, onions and honey

Another stand-out dish was the roasted brill with chicken salt – which are amazingly delicious little nodules of crispy chicken skin – which came with cockles and ruby chard. The brill was fresh and meaty and gave a great texture contrast to the crispy little chicken skin balls.

Roasted brill, chicken salt, cockles and ruby chard

It’s great to see a chef like Rogan, who has, in more recent years, defined himself through his very regional cuisine and cooking from the terroir, coming to London and giving us city dwellers a taste of his restaurant. Let’s hope his presence on London’s restaurant scene is here to stay.