Last year I was lucky to be able to spend the first few months travelling around the world and meeting various bloggers and friends, staying with them when they generously opened up their homes (and kitchens) to me, eating out all over their cities and generally having a blast. It was the most wonderful experience and the sheer generosity and kindness that I was shown was overwhelming – friendships that had before this point been only electronic blossomed, Twitter handles became real people and those real people had a wicked sense of humour, amazing creative ideas and fantastic friends and families whom I was introduced to. It really was a fantastic trip and my inner nomad was deeply satisfied (my wallet, not so much).
When in Austin I was supposed to be staying with and meeting the fabulous Monet and Ryan of Anecdotes & Apple Cores, an amazing and talented woman who was my first ever blog friend (!), but due to circumstances out of their control last minute plans changed (as they do), they were no longer able to accommodate me and I instead spent those few days with the lovely Megan of Stetted. Sadly, just as I was leaving Austin with my friend Andres to visit his part of Texas, San Antonio, I had a text message from Monet asking me if I was free to meet that day but alas, it was not to be, we were already an hour outside of town and I promised her that at some point, somewhere in the world we’d connect.
Clearly I have prophetic qualities because this spring Monet and Ryan travelled to Paris for their 3rd anniversary and whilst they were there decided to hop across to London on the Eurostar and stay with me for a couple of days. Even better, London decided to cease its grey, wet weather (apparently it’s supposed to be May over here – somebody must’ve pissed off Mother Earth recently…) and give us a little sunshine so I got to show them my city at its best! Wonderful few days – come back and see me again soon!
First stop – where to find good coffee and chocolates? Soho, obvs. After collecting Monet & Ryan at St. Pancras I took them into Soho to Milk Bar for a flat white and Paul A. Young for the best chocolate truffles you’ll ever taste (genuinely). A quick chat with Michael, head chocolatier extraordinaire, a purchase of the newest truffles in the shop (passion fruit and goat’s cheese amongst others!), we headed back into Soho to wander the backstreets (always fun to spend your first few hours in London lost amongst sex and lingerie shops…). And so to business! Off to Archer St. to hit up my fave Italian joint for a late lunch – Bocca di Lupo.
Bocca di Lupo has long been a favourite place of mine – the staff are friendly, the venue is great but, more importantly, the food is fantastic. Another restaurant where sharing plates are the order of the day, it’s perfect to bring friends… or, if like me, you’re greedy and just want to try a little of everything. Special mention goes to the signature celeriac, radish, pomegranate and pecorino salad with truffle oil and white balsamic dressing – it’s always my favourite dish.
No rest for the wicked, after gorging ourselves we headed back to my place to clean up, rest and then head out again for dinner, this time at Michelin starred Chez Bruce in SW London.
Though it’s long been on my list, this was actually my first visit to Chez Bruce and I’m glad to say that it did not disappoint. The food was simply excellent, of course paired with fantastic conversation and constant giggles. We were one of the last tables to leave the restaurant and had a merry wander back to Clapham for transportation home; I’m pretty sure we all slept very soundly that night.
The next morning I sent Monet & Ryan off along the Southbank (an ideal outing for a sunny day) and met up with them again at The Globe Theatre to head into Borough Market. We made a plan to cook something together for dinner that evening and decided the menu would be roast figs with ricotta and truffle honey, my signature roast rack of lamb, veggie couscous, a recreation of the Bocca di Lupo celeriac salad and, of course, for dessert Monet would bake something delicious. She decided on a zucchini bread topped with goat’s cheese, honey, apricots and cashews, a slightly altered version of something she and Ryan had eaten back home.
I headed home with a bag full of goodies from Borough Market whilst Monet & Ryan traipsed around the city a little more, before reconvening at home to cook our last night’s feast.
ROASTED FIGS WITH RICOTTA, BLACK PEPPER & TRUFFLE HONEY
4 ripe figs
4 tsps ricotta
2 tsps truffle honey
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.
2. Wash the figs then, using a sharp knife, cut the stems off and make a cross in the top of the fig. Push into the bottom of the cuts with your fingers so that the top of the fig opens up like a flower and sits happily on a baking tray. Be careful not to make the cuts too deep or the figs will fall apart during baking.
3. Fill each fig with 1 tsp of ricotta, a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper and drizzle the top with 1/2 tsp honey.
4. Roast for 5 – 7 mins or until the honey has caramelised a little and the figs are meltingly soft – keep an eye on it. Serve hot.
BOCCA DI LUPO CELERIAC, RADISH, POMEGRANATE & PECORINO SALAD
Recipe courtesy Jacob Kennedy; serves 4 as a starter
For the salad:
1 bunch breakfast radishes (about 8), 1/2 ?black radish, or 5cm green mooli (Chinese greengrocers), or mooli – about 150g in any case
A chunk of celeriac, about 1/4 very small bulb, peeled (50–60g)
A little chunk of Pecorino Romano cheese (about 50g)
Pomegranate, seeds picked out, or 6 tbsps seeds
A few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
For the dressing:
1 tbsp white truffle oil
5 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
Juice of a lemon (or 2 more tsps white balsamic)
1. Make a dressing with the oils, vinegar, lemon, salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning.
2. Do the following just before you serve, as radishes dry out, and celeriac blackens with time. Wash the radishes (both red and black, don’t peel either), and shave thinly – best on a mandolin. Use a potato peeler to shave the celeriac and Pecorino. Toss the lot with the pomegranate seeds and parsley, and dress lightly.
3. Serve in haphazard but tall piles on individual plates, or in a bowl to share from.
JACKIE’S SIGNATURE ROAST RACK OF LAMB
As featured in the Nudie Foodies cookbook (altered slightly); serves 4.
2 medium racks of lamb, trimmed (ask your butcher to do this for you; think roughly 2 chops per person)
Large handful panko breadcrumbs (or old breadcrumbs; the crispier the better)
2 – 3 small cloves garlic, minced (alternatively use 1 large clove)
Large handful parsley, chopped finely (leaves only)
3 – 4 tsps English mustard
1 – 2 tbsps honey, plus extra
2 – 3 sprigs rosemary, plus extra
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C and season the lamb racks lightly with the salt, then somewhat more liberally with the black pepper (lamb can be a little gamey). Form the two into a Guard of Honour by threading the opposite bones together (fat-side of the lamb on the outside), as if clasping your hands together. Place on a baking tray on top of a few sprigs of rosemary.
2. Combine the panko, garlic and parsley in a separate bowl; in another bowl mix the mustard and honey together – you don’t want this to be too runny, if it is add a little more mustard.
3. Using your hands, cover the entire racks in the honey-mustard concoction then press the panko mixture into it. I found it was a lot easier rolling the racks back and forth into the panko mixture and using my hands to press it in firmly, before forming them back into the Guard of Honour on the baking tray. When entirely covered and back on the rosemary bed, drizzle a little more honey over the top and thread the rosemary sprigs across the bones.
4. Roast in the oven for 25-30 mins (lamb will be pink). If you have thicker racks you may need to adjust this time accordingly: check on it at the 25 min mark and make a judgement call.
5. Let rest for about 10 mins, covered loosely with foil, then carve the chops and serve.
MONET’S ZUCCHINI BREAD
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, serves 4 – 6.
1 1/2 eggs
115 ml vegetable oil
100 g caster sugar
225 g grated zucchini (about 2 small zucchini)
2 tsp vanilla extract
340 g plain flour
1 1/2 tsps cinnamon
1/16 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
For the assembly:
Unsalted butter (for toasting)
A mild goat’s cheese
Chopped cashew or pistachio nuts
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C and grease and flour a loaf pan, liberally.
2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Mix in oil and sugar, then zucchini and vanilla.
3. Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt, then stir this into the egg mixture. Divide the batter into prepared pans.
4. Bake loaf for 60 minutes, plus or minus ten, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
5. Remove to a cooling rack and when cool slice into 2 – 3 cm pieces.
6. Over a medium-low heat, melt a knob of unsalted butter and when frothy lay a slice of the zucchini bread in it and toast on both sides until golden brown.
7. To assemble: spread a little of the goat’s cheese on top, sprinkle over the chopped cashews (or pistachios) and apricots, and drizzle a little honey over it. Serve warm.
The next morning was time to say goodbye to Monet and Ryan, but not before one last meal together – delicious celeriac, goat’s cheese and radish omelettes, made by Ryan, Omelette Master Extraordinaire (can you tell we had a few leftovers?).
It was so wonderful to see, eat and cook with Monet and Ryan and it reminded me how much I miss friends like them in the States. Their passion for life and adventure, and enthusiasm for London was refreshing and something that I often forget, being as jaded as I am now.
One day I’ll return to America and I know somewhere, sometime in the world I’ll be reunited with Monet and Ryan again. Until that day, peace and love.