30 May 2010

Super Marche

The joys of my life are, it must be said, manifold. I do often have to pinch myself or take a step back and remind myself that I am, frankly, a lucky old bugger. The downside - if it can be seen as that - is that the experiences and opportunities often come so thick and fast, it's all too easy to take them for granted (and, admittedly, end up weeks behind on actually writing about them).

I will then get around to discussing the lunch at Tom Aikens (although Niamh has already written about it in her usual elegant style), last Friday's lobster session at Belgo (when I finally got to kill something and eat it in a fine afternoon already documented by Chris Osborn at The Londonist) a couple of other fantastic meals from last week's Greek trip and my own attempt to recreate one of the dishes. I will also, no doubt, do some heavy namedropping having recently interviewed the ubercool John Densmore of The Doors.

Before that though, I think a simple pleasure is needed. And they don't get much better than the weekly market in Sallanches.

Fantastic meats, fantastic fruit and vegetables, perhaps the best fish stall I've ever seen, and all in the sort of setting you can barely believe: waterside AND in the shadow of snow-capped mountains.

The smells were amazing, the stallholders charming, the products mostly incredible in the way that simple fare so often is - and today I rediscovered the 600-odd grams of beech-smoked "filet mignon de porc" we brought home. It's moist, rich, incredibly flavoursome so I'll be cooking with that a LOT in the next few weeks so if anyone has some recipe suggestions, shout. And if my plans work out - and I'm kicking the diary around a bit to try and make them happen - there will be much more cooking on these pages. Watch this space.

Oh, and the best bit about the day? Spending time with our good friends Valerie and Edward, then returning to their lovely home, their very efficient oven timer and a large pot of Valerie's excellent slow-roasted chicken and several glasses of excellent red. Because even if the career withers and dies tomorrow, the good friends and good meals will still be there. It's good to remind yourself of that every now and again.

26 May 2010

I'll Get My Cote

What do they say about a picture being worth a thousand words? I think I'll just shut up then and leave you with this slab of lunchtime beauty from Cafe du Marche. Fine company - thank you Ms Krahn - a chance to put the world to rights, a glass or two of excellent red - and then this. The words "yeah" and "baby" spring immediately to mind...

21 May 2010

Greece Is The Word

I will get back to the culinary joys of Haute Savoie and charming French markets and bread with bits of bacon in it (further proof that pig can improve all manner of foodstuffs). Indeed, I have a lot to catch up on (bad blogger, naughty blogger) and will get around to them all, honest guv.

First though, while the iron's still hot, so to speak, a quick post on the joys of last night's dinner. One of the joys of this job - or "job" as rather too many of my friends would see it - is the travel and I'm writing this in the rather charming Sani Resort near Thessaloniki. With its pastel coloured stone and on-site amenities, you could see this "faked" village as something slightly Prisoner like but that's cynical even for me. And even if my access to the beach was blocked by a large bouncing ball, I'd forgive them quite a lot for hosting the annual Sani Gourmet Festival.

Now in its fourth year, the Gourmet Festival has seen many great names cooking at the various restaurants dotted around the resort. This year's event though is the first to focus on female chefs from around the globe. Tonight, it's Maria Elia's turn to cater. Last night saw Clare Smyth taking the reins.

The low-key jewel in Ramsay's crown, Clare has held down three Michelin stars at Gordon's flagship Chelsea restaurant for the last couple of years. On last night's showing, it's easy to see why and dinner was a mix of the simple, the involved, the playful, the skillful and the downright delicious.

Things kicked off with a tomato consomme that, according to my notes, was "insanely good". That was one of the more legible comments, to be honest, as the wines - and what wines - flowed a little. Accordingly, latter courses are annotated by weird scrawls and the occasional "wibble". Still, even with the brain cells addled with the delights of Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling and Nuits Saint George, I can remember each course now.

The consomme was deceptively light, and bolstered by a poached langoustine and oscietra caviar (sorry, Mrs L). How you instil that sort of tomato hit in such a light broth is a mystery to me, but I'm glad Ms Smyth has it sussed. The hint of basil - presumably taken from one of the many, highly perfumed plants dotted around the resort - was also joyously intense.

The second course may just have been my stand out course of the night. Pressed foie gras with peppered Madeira jelly (served in a slice atop the foie gras), with a sliver of smoked duck and a peach and almond crumble. The textures of each component melded together, the sweetness of the peach kicked the foie gras into orbit, the Madeira balanced the richness, the smoked duck gave a salty hint. Spectacular stuff.

A close runner-up to my unofficial prize giving would be the fish course: pan fried scallops, broad beans, peas, crispy bacon, quail's egg and baby gem lettuce. Pig and scallop may be a little bit of a cliche now (hell, even I've cooked a variation, it must be passe) but the fleshy scallops and the crunch and saltiness of the bacon are a charming marriage. With the addition of the achingly fresh vegetable support act - who'd have thought a delicate pea shoot could hold its own in that combo? - this was textbook stuff.

Roasted poussin followed which was pleasant but overshadowed, I thought, by the morels and, particularly, the tarragon-rich confit leg. That almost bitter, almost aniseed hit of tarragon is one of my favourite flavours and it shone through here. The accompanying Nuits Saint George also had me in raptures.

Melon and champagne soup arrived next, a delightful spin on the palate cleanser, with a lovely, refreshing undercurrent of basil and, in a lovely surprise move that left me giggling like a 9-year old, salt and brown sugar mixed to a "space dust" effect. The only downside of this was my camera and my photographic abilities didn't combine to make it look particularly photogenic so apologies. You'll just have to take my word for it. And that word, somewhat inevitably, is "wibble".

And so to the end, and fromage frais, red berries, elderflower and lemon balm. Simplicity itself, but the sort of light, fresh dessert that closes a meal and sends the spirits soaring. Such fruit, such sharpness... divine.

Clare Smyth ducked in later to take her applause but it was clear the move was to keep us happy rather than milk some glory from the evening. The retiring Ms Smyth rapidly ducked out, leaving her cooking to do the talking, and it was quite the conversationalist, I can tell you.

10 May 2010

(No) Planes, Trains & Automobiles...

... And a ferry. And a cab, one bus, and the Northern Line. While the end of the France / Geneva trip didn't end in quite the simple manner we'd anticipated (thanks Iceland, we love you too), the adventure of the return didn't detract in the slightest from what was a lovely weekend.

I will shortly post snaps and reminiscences of some fine eating provided by our lovely friends Valerie and Teddy, an awful lot of cheese and how even crusty French bread can be improved by sticking bits of pig in the dough. In the meantime, however, I'm just going to leave you with a classic bit of French comfort food: Tartiflette.

Potatoes, bacon, minced onion and Reblochon cheese. After six hours on various trains between Geneva and Calais and a two hour stop over at Paris Nord, there are few more welcoming sights.

1 May 2010

Barnes Storming

If there's one thing that this week has been good for, it's the reminder that the Tube isn't the be all and end all of London travel.

Some of you are no doubt sniggering already and yes, it's both fashionable and frequently justifiable to bash the Tube. But, with Mrs L working for TfL, over the last 15 years, I've got to hear the other side of the story and get a greater appreciation of why the problems exist and what they're doing to rectify them.

Regardless, even when the Northern Line was truly awful in the mid-90s, the Tube was always my default mode of transport, simply because: a) we live so close to the Northern Line; and b) I seem to spend most of my life either waiting for films to start around Leicester Square and Soho or buying cheese in Borough Market.

This week, however, I've reverted to the old me: the commuter. Back in the 80s and 90s, I spent my early working years in the City before realising I hated it, found it utterly immoral, etc., etc. At the time, I was living out in Sunbury-on-Thames so was to be found most weekdays at around 7:30am suited and booted and heading into Waterloo. I didn't miss it at all when I switched to Tube life but that just means I'd forgotten how useful trains can be. And I had two reminders of that this week, with the excellent Roz-Ana night and, on Wednesday, lunch at The Depot at Barnes Bridge.

I've gone on about Roz-Ana enough of late (but hopefully some others will follow suit shortly, he hints subtly) so today it's all about the depot. Best meal ever? No? Lovely location, very decent, sensibly priced and crowd-pleasing? Absolutely.

First of all, it's hard to hate anywhere where your dining view is this:

Secondly, the menu mixes some creativity (chick pea, vegetable, wild garlic soup with pancetta, sea bream with broccoli tempura, for example) with appetite-inducing classics.

Thirdly, while it's hard to completely balls up my choices, plenty of places have managed it. The Depot didn't. Foie gras and chicken liver parfait was meaty and creamy and in that order, well spiced and came with good walnut and raisin bread and a smear of plum jam and an intense, reviving herb salad.

Roast cod came atop minted Jersey Royals, morels, broad beans and English asparagus. The fish was firm, fresh and full flavoured, the supporting acts were vibrant and tasty: the morels were a particularly welcome touch, adding a pleasing, subtle richness. It's hardly a dish that reinvents the wheel but on a sunny day by the river it ticked my boxes.

The same can be said of the warm pear and almond tart. While the decorative icing sugar was a little distracting - happy with a scattering, this was more Dallas-style blizzard - I had no complaints over the tart, which squidged and crumbled in roughly equal measure and delivered both flavours in efficient and pleasing style.

Worth the trip in its own right? On this showing, just about, given the proximity of Ye White Hart (proper riverside boozer), the efficiency of the journey (four trains an hour from Waterloo) and the fact that there's a two course lunch for £12.50. Judging by the crowds of locals here for a midweek lunch, you might have a fight to get in. They are, I'm told, already taking bookings for 2011's Boat Race...