Tofino: a wilderness paradise with an incredible food scene

The view from the Wickaninnish

From Victoria, we headed up the island’s only highway for just over four hours (with a quick wild swim in Lake Sproat) until we reached Tofino – a small surfer wilderness town with incredible beaches and, as we’d discover, an equally impressive food scene. Tofino has a population of about 2000 (though this swells like its waves in the summer when the surfers pour in), but the residents are spoiled by the quite amazing selection of restaurants, cafes, delis and take-aways that have made a home there. We ate ridiculously well every day during our stay, which we extended from two to three nights because we just loved the place so much.

The HUGE broiled oysters at Shelter

As well as some really on-the-money restaurants like Shelter: a surfer dude hang out where I ate amazing broiled oysters and smokey aged ribeye, and The Spotted Bear: a cool French-inspired bistro where we shared some amazing charcuterie and local mussels; there’s the legendary Taco truck Tacofino which serves the best tacos I’ve ever tasted. Tacofino now has two trucks and a sit-down restaurant in the city of Vancouver, and with combinations like seared sesame soy Albacore tuna with seaweed salad and wasabi mayo, it’s no surprise. When I’m back in Van we’re definitely going to check out the restaurant, and next time I want to try the fish tacos, made with tempura ling cod, chipotle mayo, shredded cabbage and salsa. In the same lot, there’s also The Wildside Grill, a take-away which is a joint venture between a chef and a fisherman. This place is all about local fish and seafood cooked fresh off the boat – we tried the halibut and chips with apple slaw, and the gumbo. I’m going back for the spot prawns! Tofino also has a cracking little micro brewery – we adored the light, caramel blonde ale, an organic coffee roaster and a chocolate/gelato maker.

Halibut and chips with apple slaw, and spot prawn gumbo at the Wildside Grill
Rock pooling!

Rock pooling!

At the Tofino micro brewery
Szechuan brisket broiled oysters with mustard greens at the Pointe restaurant

We were staying at the utterly stunning Wickaninnish Hotel, a Relais and Chateaux which sort of grows out of the rocks on Chesterman Beach – a long, deserted sandy beach with the best rock pools I’ve seen since childhood camping holidays to Brittany. Our room here was the best hotel room I’ve ever stayed in – with a balcony that overlooked the crashing sea, a gas fire and a bathroom with windows that shared a view out onto the coast. Just heaven.

The balcony of our INCREDIBLE room at the Wick
Beach boy

The hotel’s Pointe restaurant has equally gorgeous views, but the food is a more than worthy distraction. I ate an incredible starter of oysters broiled with Szechuan braised brisket and perky mustard greens, followed by salmon with sweet breads and morels. It was absolutely stunning, but I couldn’t help being jealous of Jamie’s beautiful cod with Romesco crumble. My dessert of olive oil sponge with yoghurt and grapefruit was a perfect end to the meal: unusual, light and delicious.

The mussel banks at Chesterman beach

If you ever find yourself in BC, planning a trip to Tofino, make sure you give yourself at least few days. You’ll need it to get around all these food places.

Pork and clams at The Pointe
local cod with romesco 'crumble' at The Pointe

ALOHP roams: The Dylan, Amsterdam

IMG_2987

A matter of months ago, I had never been to Holland. This how now been remedied, and thanks to a fine twist of work-related fate, I’ve actually just been there twice in the past month. On both trips, I had the good fortune of being a guest of the Dylan boutique hotel in Amsterdam. As you can hopefully see from the photos, it’s quite something.

 While you might not guess it from the state-of-the-art in-room facilities (the minibar, pictured, has got to be the best one I’ve ever seen), The Dylan has a long and colourful history dating back to the 1600s, and was one of the first buildings on the Keizersgracht canal.First a theatre, and then a Roman Catholic poor house, this 40-bedroom property still retains many of its historic original features, with heavy wooden beams, rickety staircases (don’t worry, there are elevators too) and building inscriptions in old Dutch. But this is very much a contemporary property, steeped in a chic luxury aesthetic. The interior was originally designed by Anouska Hempel in 1999 (and refurbished in 2007 by FG Stijl), and the British designer’s touches are still dotted about, with each of its individually styled rooms offering their own charms. The hotel is named after the poet Dylan Thomas, and it certainly has a tranquil, artistic quality to it that makes it the sort of place you’d want to stay if you happened to be in Holland trying to write your novel. Situated near the trendy ‘nine street’ Negen Straatjes shopping district, canal views, warm, skilful service and a Michelin-starred restaurant make this hotel a good base from which to explore the city, but also a destination in its own right.

And what of the restaurant? Vinkeles is one of just five restaurants in the Dutch capital to hold one Michelin star – situating it as one of the best places to eat in the city – and it doesn’t disappoint. The chef is home-grown talent Dennis Kuipers, an alumnus of Alain Senderens and member of the Dutch Guild of Master Chefs, whose culinary style has its roots firmly in classical French cuisine.

The warm, understated dining room features original 18th century baking ovens – an atmospheric nod to the hotel’s past as an alms house – but the cuisine is anything but austere. Kuipers deftly balances traditional French technique with quality ingredients (some sourced from the local Lindengracht market which is worth a visit) and exciting, fresh flavour combinations like soft, rare veal knuckle with sweet roasted langoustines and curry mayonnaise, and exquisitely tender Anjou pigeon served with its crispy confit leg, tangy kidney and a rich jus with a hint of five spice.

He’s unafraid to use luxury ingredients, putting a modern spin on classic combinations like caviar and pomme puree in his Pommes Tsarine dish – a generous mound of oscietra caviar with smooth crème fraîche sorbet topped with light, fluffy potato espuma (pictured).

Service is excellent, and the sommelier is keen to showcase fantastic, unusual wines from lesser-known regions.

Brilliantly, guests can also enjoy the Vinkeles gastronomic experience on board ‘The Muze’ – a renovated 19th century river cruiser with a private skipper which will take you on a beautiful trip through Amsterdam’s canals as the chef prepares his menu onboard.

Speaking from experience, this has to be one of the most romantic European gastronomic experiences out there. We sipped Champagne while Old Blue Eyes soothed out of the boat’s speakers and the chef paraded various tasty treats fashioned in the tiny boat kitchen.

 

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

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

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.

Photo blog: my life in food

Last week’s culinary shenanigans in a few pictures. This is why I am getting fat.

A Vietnamese feast at Cafe East on Sunday
John Dory in fennel pollen with squid tagliatelle at Pied a Terre on Tuesday
Losing my Bryon burger virginity on Wednesday
Polpetti at Polpetto on Thursday
Elysee black truffle soup courtesy of Christophe Muller from Paul Bocuse, at the Sofitel Hotel, Marseilles on Friday
A post-roast Sunday supper

Chef for a day: L’Enclume

First published on The Spectator’s Website



Chef Simon Rogan’s Michelin-starred L’Enclume restaurant is in Cartmel, one of the most picturesque, remote villages in the Lake District: all cobbled streets, country lanes and babbling brooks.

Simon Rogan picking lettuce

The course begins with a trip to Rogan’s organic Howbarrow farm, where you’ll pick seasonal bounty like broad bean
flowers, lettuces, herbs and whatever else might be needed for the day’s service.

This is a one-on-one course (with an exception for couples), and you are in the immaculate but tiny kitchen with just Rogan, his exceptionally organised team and the orders. It could feel uncomfortable. It didn’t (except for my feet) — the team are a delight, all very polite, focused and insightful.

If you want extensive, hands-on cooking experience, this is not the course for you. You’re in a Michelin-starred kitchen, which has to turn out Michelin-standard food during service, so while there is much prepping (I peeled radishes and extracted duck sweetbreads), observing and chatting with the esteemed and endearingly ebullient Rogan, there is little actual ‘cooking’.

The day is broken up into stages — the trip to the farm to pick produce (my personal highlight), kitchen prep, service and a tour of Rogan’s technical nerve centre — his development kitchen with extensive gadgets. If, like me, you’re into chef geekery, you’ll love it.

Throughout service, the team will bring you dishes (if you’ve opted for the package, they will be things you haven’t tasted at dinner), and eating delicious creations such as the sublime Chantaray carrots with ham fat and cream in the kitchen as soon as they are made, with an ongoing commentary from the chef, is a culinary coup.

Gaining an insight into the working day of a chef is an experience to remember. I’d recommend the package for a
chance to also enjoy the restaurant’s sumptuous rooms, and make the most of your time in this stunning location.

Like most things of superior quality though, it doesn’t come cheap.

Chef for a day £200 (one or two students). Accommodation from £599 for two. Tel: 015395 36362. www.lenclume.co.uk

http://www.spectator.co.uk/scoff/6110793/back-to-school.thtml

Restaurant Review: The Greenhouse

(Originally published on Foodepedia)

The melting stilton and walnut crackers

Antonin Bonnet has held a Michelin star at The Greenhouse for the four years he has been working there, and it is thought by many that he should have been given a second this year. It certainly fits the French two star mould – silently swooping waiting staff who pull out your chair before you have a chance to reach for it yourself; a seriously priced tasting menu (£80 per person) and a bulging wine list that includes such treasures as a double magnum of Château Lafite‐Rothschild 1er Grand Cru Classé from 1959, which will set you back a tidy £15,500. Certainly one for a special occasion.

Looking and feeling the part is one thing, but executing food at a two-Michelin starred level is entirely another. As my meal plays out, I become increasingly baffled by why exactly Bonnet isn’t more celebrated (not just by Michelin – but in general) for what he’s doing here. We get off to a good start with some stilton and walnut crackers, which are crispy, melting and delicious and come with a palate cleansing rhubarb and apple jelly served on a little silver dish about the size of an oyster. We are instructed to “eat eet like zee oyster,” by our French waiter. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing (I blame Gerard Passedat), and it’s a nice cooling, fruity sensation.

Amuse bouche of truffle veloute... mmm

An amuse bouche of truffle veloute follows. Oh Lordy. There’s a frothy celeriac cream on top of the slick of velvety veloute, which is hiding a crumbling chestnut, and there’s a generous slice of black truffle on top. It’s divine – that gorgeous mix of earthy truffle, sweet chestnut and cream from the celeriac is an accomplished combination of flavours for what is essentially no more than a mouthful (I could have wolfed a whole bowl). It does exactly what an amuse bouche is supposed to, and I’m raring for the next course.

Crab cannelloni: delicate and fresh

Our first course of crab cannelloni displays both intricate culinary skill and a profound understanding of flavour and texture. The fresh flakes of crab are delicately flavoured with fennel and coriander and wrapped in a layer of squid and Swiss chard (the cannelloni), topped off with a salty smattering of salmon eggs. It’s all sitting on mint radish, which imparts a cool and fragrant crunch. It’s a fresh and refined dish I simply cannot fault.

Next comes one of Bonnet’s latest and most popular inventions. It’s a small package of warm but still opaque scallop, sandwiching a layer of black truffle. The parcel is surrounded by a thin, slightly astringent creamy broth. It’s a rich and tasty pairing, and the truffle/scallop combination reminds me of the time I went truffle hunting in Provence and ate black truffle cooked in an open fire in foil packages, with thin slices of pig’s neck lard. It has the same sweet, fresh, fungal flavour.

The scallop/truffle sandwich
And again - but closer

I don’t normally like gnocchi – it can be so cloying and stodgy. This ‘goat’s cheese gnocchi’ though is anything but – light as a cloud and almost like a piece of whipped goat’s cheese – creamy, deep and minerally, with beetroot and earthy leaves which give it a forest floor element. The brill Thai curry is a delicate yet powerful dish, the fish flaking on the fork and the spiced sauce packing a punch of sourness and heat, as the best Thai curries do. It’s a dish that seems to sum up Bonnet’s style – precisely and immaculately executed, with really intelligent attention to flavour. The portions at The Greenhouse are not, by any stretch of the imagination, generous – but each mouthful justifies itself.

Cloud-like goat's cheese gnocchi

A brill Thai curry

A dessert of Snix (a witty play on Snickers) is a rich chocolatey, salty combination which goes down well, but it’s the cheese course which has me in raptures – as the cheese specialist (always a good sign) dishes me up a four year matured Comte. I thought my love for Comte couldn’t get any stronger – and then he goes and pulls this out of the bag. It’s essentially everything a good Comte should be – nutty sweet with hints of honey – but with these incredible salt crystals in it which explode on the palate with a rich, intense burst of deliciousness. This isn’t one of your shiny new cheeses, it’s a Comte that’s had a few years to settle in and become really, really special – not too dissimilar perhaps, to the Greenhouse itself

CHEESE!