In a world of swaggering chefs and bids for world domination, Amy and Emily Chung, two NHS doctors from east London, are delightfully reticent trailblazers. Their sold-out supper clubs, under the name the Rangoon Sisters, have quietly helped spread the ...and more »
PEOPLEThe Rangoon Sisters
In a world of swaggering chefs and bids for world domination, Amy and Emily Chung, two NHS doctors from east London, are delightfully reticent trailblazers. Their sold-out supper clubs, under the name the Rangoon Sisters, have quietly helped spread the word about Burmese cooking, a cuisine that has thus far never had a “moment” in the UK, possibly to the relief of those close to it. Who wants their grandmother’s recipes hung, drawn and quartered by bearded boys in food trucks? Still there is fascination: tickets vanish quickly for the sisters’ joyful evenings of mohinga, lahpet thoke and khauk swe. “The supper-club crowd is a true mix of people with Burmese heritage, people who’ve been to Burma and are cravinga food fix, plus others who are just curious,” says Emily.
Both medics are devoted to their patients, so all bowls of their heart-stoppingly good hin and puddles of delicious ngapi yay must fit around their precious days off. As a restaurant critic, I constantly giggle at their humble manner of serving some of the best food I ever eat. It is always brought to the table with the words, “This probably isn’t very good but see if you like it.”
“We are always nervous that we can pull this off again,” says Emily. “But then the empty plates come back to the kitchen and we think, at some level, we’re doing OK.” GD
Five years ago, Cristina Reni was working as a journalist in her native Venezula, reviewing books for El Librero magazine. Now, she oversees five community kitchens across the world, including in Milan, Rio de Janeiro and London.
At only 28 years old, Reni is project manager of Food for Soul, the non-profit founded by Italian chef Massimo Bottura to use surplus food to feed the disadvantaged. They met through a mutual friend after Reni moved to Italy to escape the problems in Venezuela and connect with her family roots (her grandfather is Italian). A job on the reservations desk of Bottura’s restaurant, Osteria Francescana, followed, and a few months later Reni was project-managing Food for Soul’s very first refettorio in an abandoned theatre in Milan. “It was an experiment,” she says. “We just had to get on with it. At one point we had Daniel Humm [head chef of Eleven Madison Park in New York] and Massimo with us but no tables.”
Those tables arrived two hours before the first service and now Food for Soul is on three continents. A refettorio opens in Paris next month, with work in Montreal and Burkina Faso on the way. “The refettorio is not only about the food; it’s about being able to eat with other people, connecting with someone. That’s what good food does.” MT-H
As a general rule, greengrocery and the world of fresh produce isn’t very “rock & roll”. But Charlie Hicks made it so. To his friend and former colleague Gregg Wallace, Charlie wasn’t only the “poshest greengrocer you’d ever meet – he had fruit and veg running through his veins”. There’s truth in this. Charlie, who died in January, was the fifth generation of his family to be Covent Garden market traders and he understood fresh produce like no one else. He knew how it was grown, exported, sold and (a rare asset) how it could be cooked and served. His encyclopaedic knowledge of produce made all the difference to the menus of Michel Roux Jr, Rose Gray and Jamie Oliver. His much-loved weekly newsletter, listing what was in season, always started with a joke, a playful insight into the mind of someone who was funny, curious and intellectual. As Wallace says, “The only time he would stop talking about food was when he put something delicious in his mouth.” For six years, he shared his knowledge via Radio 4’s Veg Talk, which he co-presented with Wallace. “I didn’t have what it took to be a broadcaster at that time, Charlie’s talents carried me,” says Wallace. Many of the chefs who relied on him to help shape their menus might have reached the same conclusion. DS
Late last October, 36-year-old London-based Joel Bravette released a parody of Stormzy’s Shut Up on YouTube. Calling himself Jay Brave, he proclaimed the brilliance of a vegan diet, and told “carnies” to put a sock in it. A million views later, the self-styled vegan consultant is now a regular at vegan events and has chef Chantelle Nicholson of Tredwells, helping him with food videos.
Bravette became vegan two years ago, not long after working in the marketing department of a food company. “I watched how food was made en masse – meat left in the loading bay, things falling on the floor.”
For him, the diet is also about being in control. “Veganism comes from different places,” he says. “For the black vegans I know, it definitely doesn’t come from an overspill of privilege. If anything, it’s one of the few opportunities within this society to be in control of your own mind, body and spirit – it’s about autonomy.” Ultimately, he wants to do all that he can to highlight vegan people of colour. “A lot of the black vegan groups I’m part of in London feel they are marginalised and that even the vegan movement is being co-opted by white dudes and girls from Chelsea.” MT-H
The first thing you notice about the kitchen in Sanchez is the chefs are mostly women. There are fewer beards on show, unusual for a Copenhagen place run by a Noma alumna (though chef-owner Rosio Sanchez sports a roses sleeve tattoo). “From the start, I decided to just hire really good women,” says Sanchez, “and let it speak for itself. All women cooks, most from Mexico. They know the food and can problem-solve. Without them, the menu would be different.
“Logistically, though, we needed muscle power. We cook 60kg of masa a day and no one could carry it. So I said we need some guys.”
Sanchez’s life has come almost full circle, though she had to cross an ocean to do it. She grew up in a tough area of Chicago’s South Side. Most everyone spoke Spanish, most every corner sold tacos, her mum and dad were part of the American story. She left at 21 for New York, then spent five years at Noma before opening a taco stall outside Copenhagen’s Torvehallerne food market.
“After Noma, I had the stupid idea: OK, where would I want to open a taqueria? Markets need a taco, right? It’s a one-stop shop: food, flowers, taco.It’s a one-stop shop: food, flowers, taco! I was on a waiting list for a year. Business was great while the sun shone but it doesn’t shine much in Denmark. By December? Fucking dumb.”
Hence Sanchez, the city’s hottest restaurant, in a once-tough area behind the central station. Her mother is still unsure. “My parents are immigrants,” say Sanchez. “My mother didn’t want her daughter working in a kitchen, even when it was Noma. Now my dad jokes about how I make tacos on the other side of the world.”
To the tacos: the best I’ve eaten outside of Oaxaca and Mexico City. Stand-outs: a rich barbacoa with a side of complex broth and a tomato soup seasoned with lime and garlic grasshoppers from Mexico (“everyone loves them”).
Her success is no surprise to her ex-boss. “She is simply a beast of a creative force,” says René Redzepi. “She has always been a talent.” AJ
There is harmony in the work of Arnold & Henderson, whether in their smart arts events arm or at Rochelle Canteen, their bricks and mortar operation in east London and now at the ICA. Yet ask Melanie Arnold where to find the voice of Arnold in Arnold & Henderson (the business is simply named alphabetically) and who’s who becomes harder to separate.
“Margot [Henderson] and I share the same space,” she says. “We talk through the menus from the beginning and through the planning and quotes. But I trained in art and had worked at the Tate so I guess our events has been more my side.”
“Melanie brings everything to everything,” insists Margot. “We are a team together. We spent four hours today just talking about food.”
The pair met at Arnold’s wedding to Jon Spiteri in 1992, a few weeks before their husbands opened at the French House in Soho. When the men left to start St John in 1994, the women stepped in. “I joined so we didn’t have to give it up,” says Arnold. “We did the French for seven years, but we both had young kids when we had to leave, so for four years we catered out of home.”
The kids are all grown, as is the business: Arnold’s son Fin Spiteri runs the bar at the ICA, his sister Molly works at the original Rochelle and their brother Lorcan pulls occasional cooking shifts. There are other constants. Like the impeccable menus and generosity that define their style, Arnold & Henderson prove the simple rule that behind every great woman is another great woman. AJ
A long-time activist and social-media agitator, American chef José Andrés stepped into a political maelstrom with his efforts to alleviate the impact of the hurricane that tore across Puerto Rico in September 2017.
While the Trump administration sleepwalked through the devastation, Andrés’s World Central Kitchen organisation set up a network across the island to feed the displaced and dispossessed (and two months later helped victims of the wildfires in California). “We only came here to try to help feed a few thousand because nobody had a plan to feed Puerto Rico,” the Michelin-starred Andrés said at the time. “We opened up the biggest restaurant in the world in a week.’’ To date, Andrés’s volunteers have served in excess of three million meals. This effort serves in stark contrast to Trump, who was infamously filmed tossing toilet rolls at a roomful of Puerto Ricans on his (brief) visit.
It also marks another stage in the relationship between the two men, which turned acrimonious when Andrés ripped up a contract to place a restaurant in Trump’s Washington DC hotel over the latter’s racist remarks about Mexicans during the 2016 presidential campaign. The resulting lawsuit was settled but the enmity remains, as was made clear when Andrés claimed he was refused entry to the city’s elite Alfalfa Club dinner last month, with Ivanka Trump among the guests – although Andrés later accepted it was nothing to do with her personally. LD
“I always said if I wasn’t going to be a priest, I’d be a butcher,” says Charlotte Harbottle. After reading theology, Harbottle was working for a London church, but a year in found it wasn’t for her. She had supported herself for some time at university by working at a butcher’s shop in York and decided she was happier in the service industry. After working for a couple of butchers in Newcastle, she was recruited to work in London in 2011. On a trip home, Harbottle noticed a butcher’s shop for sale in Gosforth. “I didn’t even know it existed, even though it was 125 years old.” One start-up loan from the government later and she was in her own place in 2013, aged 24, still only an apprentice and “still very daft”. She taught herself on the job, and realised she was excellent at remembering the minutiae of customers’ lives – who preferred lean meat, who had a coeliac daughter – and focused on making sure each person got what was right for them. “I don’t care if you leave my shop spending money or not,” she says, “I just want you to leave happy.” HO’Ncharlottesbutchery.com
She is the holy grail, the mothership. She’s where modern Irish food began. Back in the myths of time, Myrtle Allen was the modest farmer’s wife who opened a country house restaurant in East Cork in the 60s and gained a Michelin star. She even opened a place in Paris and is still revered by posh French chefs.
She created the global brand of Ballymaloe, became matriarch of a food clan who, like the Kennedys, prefer to cluster together on campus. Myrtle is the original Allen, a mother of six, mother-in-law to Darina Allen who founded the famous cookery school and whose son married Rachel Allen, passing down the dynastic name by female lineage. In short, Mrs Allen (even Darina and her brother and fellow Irish TV star Rory O’Connell still call her that) created the idea of modern Irish cooking. It is impossible to think of a UK equivalent. Only Alice Waters in California comes close.
It was never very likely. Married aged 19 to forward-thinking farmer Ivan Allen – they had met at a dinner at Ballymaloe – Myrtle couldn’t scramble an egg on her first night back from honeymoon. But she built a library of recipe books and studied under Simone Beck. She even sorted herself a cookery column or two – the Irish Farmers Journal paid her a princely five shillings a fortnight.
Her Ballymaloe Cookbook has an introduction by OFM’s own Len Deighton and has been in print for 40 years. Among sublime recipes and stories, there is one about a “field that has always made good butter. That is long ago and the fragrance is almost forgotten”. On top of everything else Mrs Allen could write.
I had heard she has developed dementia so thought to make a late pilgrimage to see her. She is now 93. I stayed in her daughter Tash’s old room and ate oysters on toast. I talked about their mother with Tash and her sisters. I visited the Ballymaloe school and farm, walked the cliffs of Ballycotton and feasted on Frank Hederman’s wild salmon. I took tea with Mrs Allen in the Yeats Room she opened more than half a century ago. She was fun and alert, only occasionally confused. As she and the light faded, I thanked her for her company. She smiled and in turn thanked me “for taking time to visit an old Irish country woman”. Did I mention Myrtle Allen’s a national treasure? AJ
Edna Lewis (1916-2006), the elegant social activist and “grande dame of Southern cooking” may have joined the ranks of the ancestors over a decade ago, but her legacy continues to thrive. As recently as 2017, thanks to the US show Top Chef, her classic book The Taste of Country Cooking (1976) an autobiographical work, became an Amazon bestseller.
She wrote the book freehand on a legal notepad. One reviewer decried a book without pictures, another was disappointed by the “lack of true Southern recipes”, failing to understand that “Ms Edna” was not from the Deep South and a time when everything was fried with extra sugar, but hailed from a self-sufficient black farming community called Freetown, in central Virginia, founded just after the civil war.
Lewis represented thousands of African American women in the time of the Great Migration – the periods when southern blacks moved north and west for greater freedom and opportunity. What made her cooking unique was an open-eyed approach that layered history with references to West African food, French technique, the groaning table of Virginia plantations and British baking.
Her style was honed at Café Nicholson in bohemian New York (frequently attended by Truman Capote, Marlene Dietrich, Clark Gable and William Faulkner), and Lewis broke the mould by being a co-owner. Her approach to cooking – fresh, seasonal, local and organic – was at the time revolutionary. She will live on as one of the founders of the movement for better food from which we benefit today. MT
Oisín Rogers started working in bars and pubs in 1986, first in his native Dublin and then in London, where he came for the weekend in 1989 and never left. A couple of years ago, Rogers took a three-month sabbatical: he travelled round Australia and went skiing, which he loves. But the whole experience was deeply unsettling. “I almost went mental,” says Rogers, laughing. “I was lost; I couldn’t wait to be back in the pub.”
Rogers, who turns 50 this summer, is the landlord of the Guinea in Mayfair, which he took over in 2016. His reputation in the industry is for turning round failing boozers, but this assignment is different. There’s been a pub on the site since 1423 and it was renowned as a bolthole for Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. “We’ve barely changed the menu since 1960,” says Rogers. “Honestly, the prawn cocktail is exactly the same, the steak and kidney pie is exactly the same, the smoked salmon is exactly the same. We’ve had the same butcher for 40 years.”
But Rogers is clearly doing something right: profits are up since he arrived, and the Guinea Grill has just made the Top 50 Gastropubs list for the first time. “You know every element here is absolutely perfect,” he says. “That’s really our shtick and that’s what I’ll continue to do.” TL
Calum Franklin’s pies
If you’ve ever dipped a toe into the food world on Instagram, chances are you’ve already scrolled past some of Calum Franklin’s stop-you-in-your-tracks stunning pies, pastries and tarts – what this guy can do with a ruler, a sharp knife and a block of pastry almost beggars belief. His official job title may be executive head chef at Holborn Dining Room, but to his fans Franklin is better known as the king of #analpastry, such is the craftsmanship and precision he puts into his pâtés en crôute, raised pies and wellingtons.
Late last autumn, he reached a wider audience with a Munchies film on his rabbit pie, and the carrot-stuffed bunny number proved so mesmerising, it’s already had more than 1.7 million views. Soon anyone will be able to get hold of one of Franklin’s edible masterpieces without having to shell out for a table at his central London restaurant: on 5 March, the Pie Room will open next door, where you’ll be able to pick one up to take home.
Sure, the offering at this Greggs of the gods isn’t what you’d call cheap – prices range from £6 for a pie for one to£50-plus for a vast one to feed a crowd – but then, for the skills involved, nor should it be. See you in the queue. BGholborndiningroom.com
When Riaz Phillips set out to write Belly Full, his bountiful survey of Caribbean food in the UK, he initially wanted to stir some west African elements into the mix. For Phillips, who grew up in Hackney with Jamaican parents, the two cultures were closely intertwined. Visiting the homes of school friends from west African backgrounds, he noticed familiar ingredients such as plantain and yams, and spotted similarities in dishes such as Ghanaian waakye and Jamaican rice ’n’ peas.
In the end, he focused solely on Caribbean food, which he felt was strangely absent in most books on British cooking. “I’d go into bookshops and find pretty much zero representation of the foods I’d grown up with,” he says. He visited unsung Caribbean food heroes around the country – bakers, butchers, shopkeepers, cafe-owners and chefs – and told their stories in the book, which he photographed himself and published under his own imprint, Tezeta Press.
Now, with British-Nigerian journalist and DJ Zezi Ifore, Phillips is researching a book on west African food stories in the UK, which he hopes to finish later this year. These are not cookbooks, he stresses, though the first Belly Full comes with recipes by his mother. Rather, he says, “They’re about social history … and the people who have dedicated their lives to making this food and bringing their community together.” KF
Skibbereen Farmers’ Market
Close to the coast of West Cork in Ireland is maybe the best small food market in the world. Vans are backed on to the square, their boots open. There are cages of ducks and guinea fowl, white or brown chickens sold (I think) for laying eggs. A few old ladies sit with their few homemade jams and honeys, there is spanking whole cod and hake and Dublin Bay prawns on ice.
A man sells his potatoes and onions. Perhaps best of all is the local Gubbeen van selling ham and bacon and their astonishing cheese. We bought our fill. It’s so quiet in winter you feel it is almost a social thing: stallholders meeting, talking and supporting each other. It is much busier in summer. Worthwhile travelling hours for, whatever the weather. AJ
d’Berto – the world’s best seafood restaurant?
The Basque chef Nieves Barragán Mohacho of London’s Sabor calls this her favourite seafood restaurant in the world. Its location, in the fishing town of O Grove on the west coast of Galicia, a region famed for its seafood, helps. Owner Alberto Dominguez buys from fishermen and foragers, paying top price for the finest clams, velvet crabs and octopus. His sister Marisol runs the kitchen, treating every ingredient with the lightest of touches. Highlights of my lunch in October included goose barnacles, black queen scallops and a big-eyed palometa roja fish cooked on the plancha; and a dessert of tarta de queso was every bit as memorable. KF
It’s not entirely clear if last year’s Great Hygge Frenzy survived the misery of a British winter, but it does seem to have had an effect on us. Instead of looking to the Med to inspire our lifestyles, we’re contemplating the chillier north. Dr James Morton, who you may remember as an eager young chap in a hand-knitted sweater on Bake Off, grew up on Shetland and, with his father, is writing a book on its food and culture. Alongside Nordic by Magnus Nilsson and Rice, Noodle, Fish by Matt Goulding, Shetland represents a more culturally rounded approach to food.
There is fish, whisky and mutton in profusion, there are stovies and barbecues in holes on beaches, but this is not by any means “pretty food”, so what contextualises it is the storytelling, photography, the gently retro filter of such a comparative backwater. Parts of the life of the island seem unchanged since the 50s. We live in troubled times and in this particular year, we might all be glad of a little Shetland. TH
The Little Fish Market, Hove
Tucked away in small side street in Hove, a few steps from the Channel, the Little Fish Market is creating a quiet storm. Since 2013 chef-owner Duncan Ray has offered a tasting menu of exceptionally delicate and flavourful fish dishes, such as Cornish mussels in a curry broth, locally caught dover sole with roast shallots and a red-wine reduction, and smoked mackerel pate with gherkin puree – all emerging from a small basement kitchen that houses little more than a £250 domestic cooker and a salamander grill.
Having previously worked with Marco Pierre White and Heston Blumenthal, Ray made the move to Hove in part to remove himself from his big-name background. “I always knew I wanted to cook with fish, and to do that well you have to be by the coast,” he explains. “And nobody here knew anything about my background. I just started cooking very approachable food that I knew people would understand, so they could see the difference between what they already knew and what I gave them.”
Everything is cooked by Ray alone, something he is determined to continue. “It’s 20 covers, and I can’t really grow it – it has to work this way. I’m not doing this to make lots of money, I’m doing it because I want to make people happy.” Hotly tipped as Brighton & Hove’s first Michelin-starred chef since the 70s, Ray’s quiet storm may soon become a little louder. LM
Everyone knows you should head to the coast for the best seafood, but it’s probably the last place you’d go looking for a world-beating cheese toastie. With a view over Margate beach and the North Sea, this repurposed fisherman’s hut on Margate’s harbour arm may be an unlikely location for a shrine to fromage, but by god is it vaut le detour. And if you don’t fancy a grilled cheese sarnie? Depending on the day, the kitchen might also send out a whole baked cheese (from bog-standard camembert to sainted Tunworth, complete with boiled-spuds-and-cornichons for dunking), goats’ curd with deep-fried caperberries (every bit as delightful as it sounds), mac’n’cheese or a raclette that wouldn’t look out of place up the top of an Alp, let alone perched on a concrete jetty. BGCheesy Tiger, Unit 7 & 8 Harbour Arm, Margate, Kent; 01843 448550
After his father Terry died, Austin Yardley renovated the family cafe, Terry’s, that has served taxi drivers, tourists and businessmen alike on Great Suffolk Street in London SE1 since 1982. He framed Terry’s collection of postwar photography and hung it on the walls of the cramped restaurant space, and created a devotedly pro-royal family loo. But Yardley couldn’t bear to rip out the stately tea urn in the corner, even to make space for a coffee machine. “It’s the heart of the cafe,” he tells me. “The tea urn can’t go.” (A gleaming chrome coffee cart services the customers waiting outside at weekends – there’s always a queue.)
Yardley has worked here since he was 14. Black and white photos are hanging on every inch of the wall, and the decor is postwar British (tourists flock here for the social media possibilities – it’s highly shareable). Terry’s isn’t a relic, but part of a cafe culture that’s rapidly changing. “I don’t see myself as a greasy spoon,” Yardley tells me over the strains of Vera Lynn. “I’ve got my own vision of the shop. We’re a cafeteria, a cafe.”
I order the standard breakfast – eggs, bacon, Cumberland sausage, beans – with a side of mushrooms. The portions are, of course, enormous: the sausages are flavourful and the bacon is crisp. The place is packed. “We always get cab drivers,” Yardley says, “but it’s also office workers, scaffolders, the older generation.”
Like the black cab drivers, London’s cafes are under threat: spiralling rents are pushing many to closure. “It’s unbelievable how the area’s changed,” Yardley says, adding that when the nearby Shard was built, the area’s transformation accelerated. “London’s evolving. You wouldn’t recognise it.” Against this backdrop, Terry’s is not merely surviving, but thriving. SK
Casse-Croûte and Pique-Nique
It was an idea both radical and disarmingly simple. “When we opened Casse-Croûte in 2013, we just wanted to recreate somewhere we’d love to go in France, but we never found in London,” says owner Hervé Durochat. “So you come in, all the staff are French, everything is in French. We want people, when they pile through the door, to believe they are in France, even though they are in Bermondsey.”
Durochat grew up just by the Swiss border, but he’s worked front of house in London for almost 20 years, at José Pizarro’s restaurants and Alan Yau’s Yauatcha. For Casse-Croûte, he enlisted the chef Sylvain Soulard, originally from Normandy but latterly behind the stove at Morgan M. The menu would be all bistro staples – just three starters, mains, and desserts – but would change every day. “Whatever your grandmother was cooking is what is cooking at Casse-Croûte,” says Durochat.
Last year, Durochat and Soulard opened Pique-Nique, just round the corner. It is also small (just 35 to 40 covers) but the offering is “more refined” and there is an international wine list. However, do not expect these men to chase the latest trend or food fad. “A concept is like fashion,” says Durochat. “It’s very successful for one year and then suddenly people get bored and they want to see something different. Here, we keep to the classics.” TL
Île flottante at Brasserie Zédel
Chris Corbin and Jeremy King’s art deco basement restaurant just off Piccadilly – think the grandest classic bistro imaginable – is one of central London’s top value-for-money places to eat (the three-course prix fixe is just £13.25), but for all its cheap-as-chips takes on cuisses de grenouilles, choucroute and confit de canard, it’s the île flottante that transports you straight to 1930s Paris. And the price for a faultless take on the classic bistro dessert of soft meringue sat in a sea of light custard? £4.75. Which means it would be churlish not to order a glass of Banyuls alongside, just to help things along. BG
The Brink, Liverpool
This lively venue in the centre of Liverpool looks, at first glance, like any restaurant-cum-events space, with jazzy furniture and a well-priced menu offering fish ’n’ chips, healthy salads and thin-crust pizzas. But what’s notable about the Brink, which opened in September 2011, is what it doesn’t offer: alcoholic drinks. “It was set up to reduce the stigma of alcoholism and addiction,” says general manager Carl Bell. “It provides a safe place for people with drink or drug problems to come and socialise, and get a chance to integrate with mainstream society.” More than 60% of the staff, including Bell himself, are in abstinence-based recovery – and Bell estimates a similar 60-40 split among customers. All profits go to its founding charity Action on Addiction. “It’s a really chilled atmosphere,” says Bell, adding with a laugh, “We’ve never had a fight here since we opened. Take the alcohol away and all the trouble is gone.” KF
Tofino, British Columbia
A tiny surf town on the western tip of Vancouver Island, Tofino is accessible by a long road that winds through some of the island’s most beautiful national parks. But the waves aren’t the only draw – it’s also home to the freshest seafood and craft beer. Tofino Brewery, which opened in 2011, brews a range of small batch beers, including a kelp stout and, in the summer, a golden ale with local spruce tips. The original Tacofino, which serves up Californian- and Mexican-inspired street food from a truck at the back of a surf-shop car park, is rammed during high season: one taste of the seared albacore taco and you can see why. At chef Nick Nutting’s restaurant Wolf in the Fog, the food is refined but relaxed with local specialities like hot smoked char and chanterelles foraged from the surrounding forests served up on old china platters for family style feasting. SM
Kentos bakery and its 300-year-old mother
Even as a child Viviana Sirigu knew that the ageing terracotta pot tucked under her mother’s bed held something special – a batch of yeast, nurtured and used by her family to make bread for centuries.
“It was treated like a member of the family, and the bread it creates remains edible for weeks,” Sirigu says from her busy bakery in Orroli, a small town nestled in the centre of Sardinia. “In some ways it’s a connection to my mother and family members who have passed.”
The yeast, called su frammentu (mother yeast), has been cared for and fed with spring water daily for 300 years, and is now being brought to the world. Sirigu, who started Kentos bakery after being made redundant from the civil service, has coupled the slow-rising all-natural su frammentu with a rare strain of Sardinian wheat called Senatore Cappelli – a tall six-foot wheat that was believed to be extinct before being rediscovered in a barn just a few miles from her home a decade ago. The result has been a bread that is winning accolades at home and abroad, and has become renowned for its ability to stay fresh for at least two weeks.
“That longevity is partly down to the su frammentu,” Sirigu explains. “What we do here, with the yeast, wheat, and the way we slowly bake the bread, is really unique. I took a big gamble to do this and return to my roots – it worked.” MV
The new Noma
A month before the opening of Noma’s new site (on 15 February), after two years of seeking permissions and planning, more than a year of building, the restaurant looks like, well, a building site. “Every time I come here I get very nervous,” says René Redzepi, “though we have 80 people working all the time and one of the greenhouses went up in six days.”
Back at his home, now turned over to the Noma pastry section, an outbuilding houses a temporary test kitchen. Walls are covered in crustacea and seashells. Dried fish and squid hang from beams. Chefs are deboning turbot, trimming crab shells, cold-smoking fishy things. I exchange smiles with Ali Sonko, kitchen porter turned part-owner. The restaurant team, if not yet the builders, are ready for the opening seafood season (“If people have allergies we are asking them to please come in another time,” says Redzepi). There will be a vegetarian menu over the summer before switching to game in September.
“Focusing on the oceans means we have more things than we need for winter when we are usually struggling,” says Redzepi. “But next year may be minus 20, we might have to cut through ice for fish.” Whatever the temperature, whatever the season, the new Noma will (surely) be ready. AJ
I Giardini di Pomona: the ultimate fig orchard
Striped tiger figs; sweet Calabrian dottato and dark-purple French sultane … these are just a few of the 500 ancient varieties of fig found at I Giardini di Pomona, a botanical conservatory in the Itria Valley, Apulia. Founder Paolo Belloni believes figs are integral to countries with a Mediterranean climate: “We are preserving the amazing range of flavours, scents, shapes … and their ability – developed through millennia – to adapt to different and adverse climatic conditions.” There are hundreds of other fruit trees too(citrus, pears, pomegranates), and a lavender labyrinth with a persimmon at its centre, grown from a tree that survived the Nagasaki atomic bomb. MT-H
Assassination Custard, Dublin
At this entirely unassuming restaurant in central Dublin, Ken Doherty and Gwen McGrath are serving up some of the most exciting food in the city. They call it “a sort of Italian”, although the lunch-only menu – handwritten every day on a brown-paper bag – also draws inspiration from the Middle East and North Africa. Vegetables take a leading role, as does offal, and everything is pared to its simplest expression. Standouts over three joyful lunches last summer included cicoria with fava beans drizzled with very good olive oil, and goat’s kidneys with cumin and paprika butter. There is talk of expanding to a larger site in spring, so try to catch them before they grow. The name, incidentally, refers to a dessert that James Joyce and Nora Barnacle made for Samuel Beckett after the latter was stabbed by a pimp in Paris in 1939. KF
Bristol’s drinks scene
Bristol’s success as a food destination is now a matter of record, but the drink scene is as worthy of attention. At Bellita, a buzzing, Spanish-influenced bistro in the fashionable streets of Cotham, there is an astonishing “every-bottle-a-hit” wine list entirely from female winemakers. It’s the work of award-winning local booze maven, and partner in the restaurant, Kate Hawkings. She’s been a fixture on the scene since its very origins – though in a refreshingly Bristol way, she refuses to be called a sommelier.
Originally our key import route for port, madeira and sherry, Bristol is a city steeped in booze. In recent years, bars such as the Milk Thistle, Red Light and the only recently closed Hausbar have been breeding grounds for award-winning cocktail makers, while the local craft tinkerers have been experimenting with everything from gins and akvavits at Danny Walker’s micro-distillery, Psychopomp, to hand-made vermouths at the The Ethicurean.
Bristol has long ploughed its own creative furrow and trend-spotters keep an eye on the city for innovations. So it may be useful to know that Hawkings, who, it turns out, also writes like a West Country Dorothy Parker, is just about to publish a book on aperitifs. TH
FOOD AND DRINK
Fosse Meadows chicken
In 2009, Nick Ball and Jacob Sykes moved from London to Leicestershire to take over Ball’s family farm. They’d noticed a lot of interest in ethically reared pigs, but thought no one was yet farming a really great chicken. Nine years on, and their birds are some of the tastiest in the UK. The simple reason, according to Sykes, is because they live for longer. While commercially reared birds are slaughtered at five weeks, Fosse birds live until they are 81 days old, free-ranging and foraging during the day. They’re from a French breed and have longer legs which means they can roam further, developing darker meat with more texture and flavour. Stronger bones also means more flavour, and the proof is in the stock. If you’ve noticed cockerels becoming more popular (the strong taste is turbo-charged chicken), that’s probably thanks to Fosse Meadows, who age their birds to 125 days and breed them as a Christmas turkey alternative. HO’N
Spring’s Scratch menu
It’s easy to rack up a sizeable bill at Skye Gyngell’s stellar restaurant at Somerset House. That’s one reason why its Scratch menu, available from 5.30-6.30pm daily, is such a delight: you get three courses, and the chance to hang out in one of London’s most beautiful dining rooms, for 20 quid. Fighting waste is the guiding principle: misshapen fruit and veg from Fern Verrow farm and leftovers are key components. There’s no choice on the menu, but when the food is this good – I had beetroot soup, meltingly tender lamb shank with borlotti beans, followed by meringue with lemon sorbet made from leftover barista milk – it’s hard to grumble. KF
When it comes to cast-iron pots and pans, Le Creuset has had the UK market pretty much sewn up since the 60s, thanks in no small part to a certain Mrs E David and the sales skills of Terence Conran. But they now have homegrown competition from a tiny outfit in Shropshire: Netherton Foundry’s pots are as practical, durable and well-designed (plus they eschew Le Creuset’s kaleidoscope of colours in favour of good old-fashioned black or navy); they’re for the most part cheaper, too, and materials and tradespeople are sourced locally, wherever possible. BG
Rambla’s oxtail canelones
A fiver doesn’t buy much these days: it might (just) stretch to a filled baguette, a bag of crisps and a can of pop at a high-street chain. But since late 2017, £5 also gets you one of London’s genuine bargain dishes: the oxtail canelones at Rambla in Soho. And they’re as welcome in the stomach as they are on the wallet: cannelloni are filled with a dense, dark and deeply meaty stew, topped with a deliriously cheesy bechamel that majors on nevat, a punchy Catalan goats’ cheese, and the lot’s then baked until molten. (Catalonian cuisine has a centuries-old tradition of cooking with pasta.) What’s more, it’s cooked in front of you by a real-life chef in a small open kitchen. Now that’s a value deal. BG
The deep fried revival
Few things would seem more antithetical to a carbohydrate-bashing society than battering food and dunking it in boiling oil. Yet, where others would see cardiac arrest, Neil Gill saw an opportunity. He grew up in Sunderland and, before opening Season, a Finsbury Park, north London local favourite, he spent time working for Alan Yau. His new idea was to combine the fish bars of his youth with the lightness of tempura frying. The result is Gilly’s Fry Bar, round the corner from Season, where batter is an art. Perfectly light pieces of cod, hake and vegetables sit alongside deep brown crinkle-cut chips. Gill is not alone in rediscovering his deep-fryer. At Theo’s Pizzeria, in Camberwell, the classic pizza fritta is offered as a starter – deep-fried dough with confit pork belly, ricotta and mozzarella. At Tony Conigliaro’s new Bar Termini, in Marylebone, a selection of deep-fried panzerotti is on hand for booze-sponging duties. EC
The best £10 bottle of wine
How much should you spend on a bottle of wine? According to ex-Waitrose boss Mark Price, in widely reported remarks last year, a tenner is the sweet spot where quality and price aligns. OFM would probably prefer to expand the definition to £9 to £15, but it’s true that, thanks to duty and other fixed costs, £10 is where wine starts to get really interesting. And the best wine at the magic mark? It depends on your taste, but we know what we’d have: Co-op Irresistible Chinon, Loire, France 2015 is a perfectly balanced cabernet franc red from an excellent producer in a fine vintage, with gorgeous fresh, crunchy red and black fruit. DW
Motu and the new smart takeaways
The Indian takeaway has been due an overhaul. Motu is at the vanguard of Deliveroo’s new Editions, special kitchens designed solely for delivery. Motu is backed by JKS, who also gave us Trishna and Gymkhana, and the menu is firmly in the Anglo-Indian tradition, with tikka masala in pride of place. It is one of only a few restaurants to exist just for delivery, but there are delivery-only kitchens for bricks-and-mortar restaurants Busaba Eathai, MEATliquor and Franco Manca, among others. Deliveroo expects Editions to overtake its core business, and Uber Eats is said to be planning something similar. EC
Bitterness in drinks
The British are getting bitter. Nothing to do with politics: our collective palate has fallen for drinks that have something to make the mouth pucker. It all starts with the negroni, the classic Italian mix of gin, vermouth and Campari that has been to the 2010s what the cosmopolitan was to the 1990s. Its success has opened a whole world of amaro to explore from alternative red Italian bitters and aperitivi (Casoni 1814, Contratto, Meletti 1870 to Spanish and Catalan vermouth/vermut(Lustau, Gonzalez-Byass, Casa Mariol). Intense bitterness is also part of the appeal of the extreme, hoppy IPAs that are such a big part of the craft beer scene, and the trend extends to orange wines, which are made with long-macerated white grapes and bring an attractive herbal twist of bitter. DW
Brown Envelope seeds
I have a long-term obsession with Mads McKeever and her brilliant Brown Envelope seed company. Selling only organic and open-pollinated (ie, non hybrid) vegetable, grain and herb seed she has grown herself, McKeever can be found at Skibbereen market (see No 4) and, of course, online. Known simply as “the seed saver” by much of Ireland’s food and farming community, McKeever is a gifted grower and nurtures many interesting varieties on the small farm she shares with her daughter Holly, a handful of cattle and two donkeys overlooking over the Turk Head peninsula of Cork. I swear by all her seed, but particularly the beans, amaranth and seasonal salad mixes. AJ
Redemption Roasters is a first: a small-batch roastery in a prison. In 2016, the Ministry of Justice asked coffee wholesalers Ted Rosner and Max Dubiel if they would be interested in setting up a barista academy within a prison with the aim of reducing reoffending rates. “The connection came through a supplier,” Rosner explains. “We thought it would be more interesting to open a roaster as there are so many skills involved.”
Ten apprentices work in the roastery and small cafe at Aylesbury Prison, an institution for 17-21-year-old men. As with any work undertaken in prison, they are paid – and the roastery is a business, not a charity, or the recipient of subsidies.
The first Redemption Roasters cafe opened on London’s Lamb’s Conduit Street last summer (a second is coming on Long Lane in Farringdon), offering coffee, bags of beans and, crucially, employment for apprentices after release. SM
Take Me Cooking: Airbnb for travelling food lovers
When Laurie Vaquer was working for the French embassies in Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo, she made a point of trying to learn to cook local dishes, but was frustrated at the limited opportunities on offer. Now she’s connecting food-loving travellers with cooking classes in their chosen destination. Vaquer and developer Matt Whetton set up Take Me Cooking to offer cooking experiences for travellers taught by local enthusiasts. Currently on offer: making plum dumplings in Serbia and sesame bread in Zanzibar. “More people are searching for better food and different flavours,” says Vaquer. “I want Take Me Cooking to be an authentic way to learn and experience these things.” LM
Sandwiches at The Quality Chop House Shop
Sandwich strategists may be dreaming up the next outré combination, but at the Quality Chop House Shop in Clerkenwell, which adjoins the restaurant of the same name, the generous fillings – one hot and two cold every day – have a decidedly nostalgic flavour. “We kind of feel that if things are good enough quality, you don’t need to add lots of spices,” Martha de Lacey, who works in the deli three days a week, says. “People come for the egg and cress, the ham and coleslaw, the beef and celeriac.” Simple doesn’t mean basic. The sourdough for the cold sandwiches – spread with unsalted French butter – comes from the Little Bread Pedlar in Bermondsey, but everything else is made from scratch, from the meat (butchered by the restaurant’s butcher George), to the chutney, mayonnaise and brioche buns for the hot sandwiches. The egg and cress has lovage and celery tops running through it, and the chicken gribiche contains “just the most ridiculous amount of soft herbs, it’s almost green”. SM90-94 Farringdon Road, London EC1; 020 3490 6228
Empirical: bottling revolutionary spirits
The usual thing to do when you start a new distillery is pick an established spirit and try to make it better than your competitors. Copenhagen’s Empirical, founded by Lars Williams and Mark-Emil Hermansen, has taken a different approach, distilling liquids that don’t easily fit into any of the conventional categories. At their warehouse HQ on the industrial island of Refshaleøen, they produce a base spirit made from pearl barley inoculated with koji; to this they introduce botanicals with a distinctly Nordic character. So far, Empirical has bottled four different spirits, including Easy Tiger, flavoured with douglas fir and mature juniper, and Charlene McGee Blend, which uses smoked juniper to create a spirit that reminded me of mezcal. Drinking them is a disorientating experience, in a good way: Empirical takes experimentation to satisfying ends. KF
Native to Nepal, timut pepper looks like tiny, exploded seeds and has a grapefruit aroma coupled with a numbing tingle not unlike that of Sichuan peppercorns. It’s an essential ingredient in many of the traditional dishes of the region, including tomato achar, a spicy pickle. But a pinch (and it really should be just a pinch) of timut pepper’s unusually refreshing flavour works equally well with fish and seafood (crushed into flour for a crispy coating to fried red mullet), potatoes (tossed with the new season’s, simply boiled), and even chocolate (a clever update to the chilli chocolate brownie). LM
The first thing to say about Highland Wagyu’s beef is that it’s not cheap: prime cuts cost up to £250 a kilo, and even a secondary cut could set you back upwards of £30 for a single 300g steak. But, my oh my, is it delicious: the featherblade I received in the post, and slow-cooked over dice-sized roast potatoes, was meltingly tender and dripping with flavour – up there with the best I’ve tried.
It came from Perthshire, where Mohsin Altajir and and Martine Chapman have been farming full-blood wagyu cattle, as well as Aberdeen Angus, Beef Shorthorns, Highlands and Dexters, on their 25,000-acre estate since 2011. The couple acquired a taste for wagyu while living and selling real estate in Dubai. Becoming beef farmers in the Scottish Highlands wasn’t an obvious transition – “When we started, we didn’t know one end of the cow from the other,” Altajir confesses – but they applied themselves to the task with single-mindedness and the ambition to rank alongside the best wagyu producers in Japan.
Their painstaking approach helps explain the expense: the cows are treated like royalty until slaughter, which happens after three or four years rather than the usual one or two. (“We wait till it’s ready,” says Altajir.) The chefs on their fast-growing customer list seem to appreciate the extra effort. According to Tom Kitchin, of the Michelin-starred Kitchin restaurant in Edinburgh, it’s the “best beef in the UK”. KF
Butter: affordable luxury
Nowhere has the increase in food prices over the past year been more apparent than in the butter aisle. We’ve come to appreciate it as a luxury item, and seek out those that are worth spending a little more on. We love Abernethy sweet butter from Northern Ireland, available in salted, smoked and seaweed (confusingly delicious on toasted teacakes). Whey butter is a byproduct of cheesemaking. It has a more matt appearance, a sharp and pleasant, unsurprisingly cheesy flavour. Keen’s, served at 40 Maltby Street, and Quicke’s both make good examples from cream separated from whey used in their award-winning cheddars. Ampersand cultured butter is hand-churned by chef Grant Harrington using Jersey milk with pink Himalayan salt. Favoured by Sat Bains for his restaurant, Ampersand is rich and smooth, with just the right hit of sweet cultured tang. With price rises most evident in mass-market brands, supermarkets are also expanding an increasingly interesting standard range. St Helen’s Goat Butter is our pick of the more widely available products – it’s smooth, sweet and slightly nutty, and costs the same as the big brand name standard butters. HO’N
TinyLetters on food
Blogging changed the face of food writing. Now personal newsletters are becoming an increasingly popular space for writing outside conventional channels. The most common service is TinyLetter, which caps subscriber numbers at 5,000. It’s simple: you sign up and newsletters are delivered to your inbox whenever the author chooses to send them.
They often have a theme. Author Sophie Mackintosh’s Gastro del Solo documents her meals out alone; photographer Sophie Davidson’s Women Cook for Me features a wide range of women, alongside her beautiful film-shot photos; Laura Goodman’s One Potato is loosely spud-centric (“I wanted something specific but open to anything”). Ruby Tandoh’s The Concept of Waffles takes its title from a Nora Ephron quote which sets the tone for her essayistic letters.
Freedom and the desire to develop your voice are enticements. As Goodman says: “What if I can write however I want, not trying to please anyone?” The relative intimacy of the format – you can archive or keep them as a one-off – is also crucial. As Rebecca May Johnson, whose first anonymous TinyLetter explored the perspective of a waitress, says: “It feels like a private space where you can really experiment.”
In an industry dominated by men, it is a format in which the voices are notable for being predominantly female. Johnson agrees: “I guess it’s part of a wider cultural shift where there’s been an emancipation of women’s voices. The internet has been absolutely instrumental in that.” SM
Fare is unlike any other food magazine. By focusing on one city per issue and recruiting local writers, chefs, historians and cultural commentators, it delves into unknown sides of each location, and is complemented by stunning photography and beautiful design. Editor Ben Mervis, has a masters in medieval history, and is a contributor to the Netflix series Chef’s Table. “Fare uses food as a vessel for exploring a city,” says Mervis. Istanbul was chosen for the first issue for its “many layers of history, romance and lore”. The second, out now, is devoted to Helsinki, with profiles on its Baltic herring market and baking tradition, and Kajsa Wahllund, an early 19th-century female restaurateur. There’s also a lovely interview with Sophia Jansson, niece of Moomins creator Tove, who reveals her aunt was keen on tinned lychees. LM
John Berger on food
Eating and drinking runs through everything the Marxist artist and writer John Berger did, like the marbling of fat in meat. His script for the film Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976) uses the messy unspooling of a black pudding to argue that time moves in loops and folds rather than in a straight line; that there is hope of political change when it seems most hidden. A Seventh Man (1975) is an exploration of migrant labour in Europe which Berger justifiably thought grew younger with time. It led to the trilogy of novels about Alpine peasant life Into Their Labours (1979-1991). Together, they question the sustainability of our attitudes to time, and food, and the people who grow it.
In the 2005 story collection Here is Where We Meet, dead people from Berger’s life join him at the table: a tin of Polish lager with an old teacher, or soufflé-soft fish with his mother. Since his death in January 2017, his work has become an invitation to join him at the table. His own favourites? Omelettes, mayonnaise, herring, mimosa eggs, soup and steak tartare. Maybe with a bottle of Châteauneuf-de-Pape, or the spirit illicitly distilled by farmers in the Alps: eau-de-vie, the spirit of life. TO
The Reading Cure
Food in books tends to live on in the imagination, from the Turkish delight Edmund succumbs to in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the Christmas ham the Mortmain family eke out in I Capture the Castle.
But for journalist Laura Freeman, it has a greater meaning. At 14, Freeman was diagnosed with anorexia, and in this unflinching account of her illness and recovery she movingly relates how the food she encounters in the pages of Dickens, Laurie Lee, Virginia Woolf, MFK Fisher, Elizabeth David and more helps her not only to develop an appetite and a relish for eating – lava-yolked boiled eggs, coracle-like Yorkshire puddings, a slim slice of her mother’s blackcurrant cake – but for living too. Freeman has interesting thoughts about our sometimes confused relationship with food, the conflicting advice about what you should eat.
“I hope it will be a hopeful book,” she says. “I think everyone has periods in their life of feeling low and they just need something to encourage them through the day.” SM
Was Ambrose Heath (1891-1969) the most prolific food writer who ever lived? It seems highly likely. The son of an electrical engineer who had disappointed his father by having failed to pass his scholarship exam for Oxford, Heath wrote his first four cookery books in 1933; by the time the war had begun, he had somehow produced another 11. In all, he wrote at least 100 titles, not to mention the Patsy cookstrip he drew for the Daily Mirror during the war, and numerous articles thereafter for magazines such as Queen. But quantity, in this case, wasn’t an indication of poor quality control: the best of his books – Good Food, Good Food Again, The Country Life Cookery Book, The Penguin Book of Sauces and (my favourite) Good Savouries – are both witty and genuinely useful. Some also make for lovely objects, having been illustrated by such artists as Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden (the subject, incidentally, of a forthcoming show at Dulwich Picture Gallery). In 2018, we may no longer want to serve boiled cucumber with a veal cutlet, let alone add banana to trout meunière. But Heath was a wise and capable home cook, and even now he won’t fail you when it comes to the basics. His recipes work, and most of them taste very nice. RC
Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh
The message at the heart of Ruby Tandoh’s treatise on food and appetite is that “there is no single right way to eat”. This might sound straightforward, but as journalist and Bake Off finalist Tandoh explains, our attitudes to food can be conflicted. What we eat is bound up in nostalgia, ritual, comfort, body image, status and more. Tandoh examines these knotty issues with both gravity and humour, her enthusiasm for the pleasure of eating – sun-warmed Essex blackberries or a perfectly composed Burger King – running through each chapter like the lettering on a stick of seaside rockEat Up is a timely reminder that food is something to savour. SMEat Up: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want by Ruby Tandoh (Serpent’s Tail, £12.99)
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