27 September 2009

Who Ate All The Paella?

And another month sails by with too few blog posts. Not good. Anyone would think I had to try and make a living as well or something.

Nah, that's just excuses. Besides, one of the reasons I've not posted is because I've been eating lots (for future blog posts), exercising hard (to balance out the eating and in preparation for the OTHER blog) and, also, going away for a week.

While there's been a lot of travel this year, it was great to get a proper holiday in. As fun as Turkey, Dubai, Vegas, Copenhagen, Champagne etc., have been - and they were a LOT of fun - there's a big difference between press trip and holiday. So, Mrs L and I went off to Spain for a week, to see Sheila, her favourite aunt, and to celebrate her cousin Matthew's 50th.

It was a pretty perfect week, frankly. Lots of sunshine, walks on the beach, trashy murder mysteries consumed at the rate of one a day and, as you'd expect in Spain, great eating. I have, frankly, eaten my bodyweight in ham

It's not that we can't get good ham over here. Our local butcher's ham off the bone is awesome. Places like Brindisa will sell you all sorts of piggy gorgeousness. But our supermarket stuff? Bloody awful reconstitued ham "product". Contrast that with even the cheapest fare in a Spanish supermarket. Seriously, we bought a "snack pack" of chorizo for a Euro and it was better than anything we've ever found in Waitrose. And how can you resist any country where your average supermarket has a display like this?

The foodie highlight of my week though? Watching Sheila's charming landlord Elio make a paella, from scratch, over a wood fire. It was a thing of edible beauty. The fresh air and the smell of wood smoke would have been enough to work up an appetite anyway: throw in the smell of the frying chicken, the vegetables, the garlic, the clams and you're talking two hours plus of incredible anticipation.

Pictures, as they say, are worth a thousand words. So I'm going to shut up for a while and let the camera do most of the talking...

The fire gets built

The oil gets added

The first bit of chicken...

Elio browns the chicken

Tomatoes and peppers go in...

And simmer down slowly, releasing their juices

The rice gets added

As the rice soaks up the juices, a handful of peas goes in

Saffron and paprika give colour

The clams...

Which cook gently and open

Elio's wife, Olga, adds prawns and red peppers

The mussels are the finishing touch, and it's all done. And absolutely delicious.

A much deserved Sangria toast for - and from - the chef

A post-lunch nap

15 September 2009

That's How I (Arctic) Roll

They say that smell is the most powerful of the senses, the one that can transport you back instantly to a past memory. I disagree: I say taste.

I had that brought home to me last night with a fine, hearty meal of "proper" food at The Old Bear in Cobham. It's owned by the same team as The Albion in Islington, which is one of my favourite pubs in the capital. Dare I say it, The Old Bear may be even better in terms of food? Exemplary triple-cooked chips (fatter than normal but a perfect balance of cloud-like inner fluffiness and noisy external crunch), a steak tartare that made up for the cravings that started in Paris last week and a rillette that I'd still be eating now if they'd let me.

And then, one mouthful of pudding and I was eight again. The pud in question? Their update / improvement on Arctic Roll: Proper sponge, rich, creamy, vanilla-flecked ice cream, some intensely flavoured strawberries, plus a spoonful of strawberry jelly that made me giggle in delight. An Arctic Roll with a twist but still, undeniably, an Arctic Roll and an evocative taste of childhood. Brilliant.

10 September 2009

More Catching Up...

No apologies - even if there's one due. Let's get straight to the catch-up. I'll get to the baked cheesecake recipe one day soon, but trust me it's worth the wait...

One of the best value foodie experiences of recent weeks was at Thai Kitchen 101 in Ravenscourt Park. William had been raving about it for ages and, given his knowledge of all things Thai, that seemed like quite the endorsement. Funnily enough, I was heading out west to meet Will recently and was a little early, so thought a brief detour to the restaurant was in order. Then who should I run into on the same tube carriage but Will himself. Cue incredible value, delicious lunch, particularly the spicy Laotian Fish Salad...

Another standout - despite the silly "British Pounds" eccentricity of the menu - was the new restaurant in the vaults of St Pauls. A delightful summery salad of squid was excellent, the beef was so good I dived in before I could get the camera out while a pudding sadwich of ginger cake with honey ice cream is going to be in the year's top ten experiences. If I was the sort of tosser who'd do a top ten. Which, frankly, I probably am.

And dear God, I've not done any pics of Copenhagen either, have I? Gah, how did that happen? Admittedly a chunk of that might have been cost related - it's pocket-rapingly expensive - but there are some relative bargains to be had. Sadly we only got a glass of bubbly and some brillliant olive-like green peaches at The Paul

while interviewing Paul Cunningham himself: the budget didn't quite run to the £300+ dinner at his Michelin-starred gaff. Another time though. He's a bloody nice, very amusing bloke.

Instead of The Paul, we found ourselves in the, er, Brewpub. Sounds tacky and downmarket? It really wasn't. They do an excellent beer and food matching menu, and make all the beer themselves. A stew of pigs cheeks was particularly good...

We then headed slightly north to the lovely Skovshoved Hotel, a place of sea air, crumpled charm and lovely food such as this steak and these really rather excellent crispy chips.