Posts Tagged ‘London’

Eating out | Spring at Somerset House

17 October 2014

IMG_6830

I don’t usually rush to a new restaurant the moment it opens. I have only a limited interest in the latest new hotspot. But, coincidentally, a few weeks ago at dinner with friends, we spoke about Skye Gyngell; about her cookbooks, about her previous restaurant, Petersham Nurseries, which I didn’t have the opportunity to visit while she was the chef. As the conversation migrated to her upcoming venture, in Somerset House, opening a few weeks hence, we were all excited to go.

I had not been to Somerset House since we moved to London last year, which means the last time I was there was to visit the Courtauld Gallery during a solo visit to London in my teens. That moment is my favorite memory of the trip, so stepping through the majestic building again rang of the past in a lovely, personal way. It was a good idea to meet before dinner for a glass of wine outside in the courtyard to savor the setting.

I own two of Skye Gyngell’s cookbooks and often leaf through them. I am invariably transported, intrigued and tempted, though I have only made very few of the dishes. Perhaps I am disconcerted by the idiosyncratic ingredients — one foot firmly settled in Italy while the other perambulates confidently through Asia — which make it hard for me to imagine the finished dish, to know where I am going. This should be thrilling; perhaps I play it a little safe in my own cooking. When I eat out, however, being surprised is exactly what I crave.

My first impression was to be disappointed by the familiarity of the menu. I was hoping for the spirited flavor combinations I have so long admired — and shyed away from — in the books. And so?

The starter was one of the best things I have eaten recently. I am still unsure how the combination of ‘Puntarelle and goat’s curd with mint and black olive dressing’ worked so well, but it was fresh, balanced and addictive in the most convincing way. I could happily have had just that all evening. Next, Slow cooked pork shoulder with girolles, daterrini, and polenta was predictable and a little disappointing, with nothing to elevate the flavors, no special zing. We shared desserts and I happily relinquished any claim to either the warm chocolate cake (you know me) or even Buttermilk pannacotta with damsons and wood sorrel, for yet another lunge at the Hazelnut and pear tart with creme fraiche and espresso — heaven.

The winter garden (pictured above), for smaller parties, holds most of the magic of the place. The main dining room is tall, light, feminine, and ultimately a bit bland. It reminded me vaguely of ABC Kitchen in New York, but lacking the lightness and playfulness which give that restaurant its irresistible charm. I don’t love the space.

Which brings me to the ultimate question: all things considered, am I impatient to go back? Unfortunately I must admit, despite some stunning dishes and, that evening, great company and a lovely night, not very. I realize it’s early days and one shouldn’t judge a restaurant on just one meal. But the place is a little too grand, the food not quite surprising enough — they seem out of sync. I imagine this meal in the lovely rickety setting of Petersham and can’t help but wish I hadn’t missed that. Luckily, I have the cookbooks, which I am now emboldened to try!

IMG_6828

Spring
Somerset House, Lancaster Place
London WC2R 1LA

Tel: +44 (0)20 3011 0115
Online reservations

Eating out | All the way across town to The Brackenbury

22 May 2014

photo(16)

I’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant less conveniently located from where I live. Try as I may, I couldn’t figure out a way to get there in less than an hour. Miraculously, the Picadilly line would take me all the way; I guess I could find less conveniently located places, after all.

This is something one learns quickly about London. As any experienced Londoner readily points out, the city is huge, travel is inconvenient and slow. Choose your neighborhood well, because that’s where your life will unfold, it’s where you’ll stay. I was determined not to get trapped by this insularism, at least hold out as long as I can.

I might admit that the friend who suggested The Brackenbury lives much closer to the restaurant. I could have lobbied for a more practical choice, somewhere half way; but I know her well, and I trust her hunch. This was the place she’s really wanted to try. And anyway, on principle, I am game.

On the way toward the tube I began questioning whether being so open minded really is such a good thing; after a good 40 minutes on the train I began grumbling that this place better be very good indeed; partially lost and sidling into deserted dimly lit streets I concluded this probably wasn’t such a great idea.

Finally I arrived. From the street it looked bustling and warm and inviting. I relaxed.

The Brackenbury feels very much like a neighborhood restaurant, and resolutely untrendy. The space is a bit drab. With carpeted floors, comfortable seating, and starched tables arranged in nooks up and down steps in adjoined rooms that resemble an expanded home.

Most importantly, the food is great. The calf’s liver was probably the best I’ve ever eaten; perfect texture, cooked beautifully, impeccably accompanied by the most delicious polenta and kale. The starter was a simple salad of bitter lettuces whose name I can’t recall and it was very good (though when my friend ordered the same later as a main course it was a bit sloppy and overdressed). For dessert there was sweet, tart, ethereal rhubarb Eton mess.

Simple, and one of the very good restaurant meals I’ve had in a while.

Would I try to convince someone to trek all the way across town, late at night, for dinner at the Brackenbury? Perhaps not. But if I lived a bit closer I’d go again in a heartbeat.

The Brackenbury

Open for lunch Fri-Sun 2.00-3.00 pm
Dinner Tues-Sat 7.00 -10pm
Closed Monday

http://brackenburyrestaurant.co.uk/

A bite of London | Saturday in Stoke Newington

11 January 2014

IMG_2695

My sister told me about the Stoke Newington farmer’s market even before we moved to London, so I’m not sure how to explain that, though we’ve lived here for over four months and despite the fact that Stoke Newington is very close to where we live, I’d not yet been. Well, maybe I can explain. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say we’ve had other things to do.

But as January sauntered in, magnificently nonchalant as it is wont to be, with no other plans last weekend we decided to finally visit the market. Oh but first, breakfast.

IMG_2636

There are many tempting cafés and restaurants in Stoke Newington. The Haberdashery had caught my internet perusing eye, so we strolled up Stoke Newington High Street in its direction, peering into other possible options on the way. None beckoned.

I admit I have an incorrigible penchant for the time worn, run down, and artfully decaying, and immediately loved the place, its battered tile walls and seventies crockery. Service was kind and the coffee was good, unfortunately the food wasn’t great.

IMG_2647

The English and vegetarian breakfasts were uneven. Free range eggs, nicely confit-ed tomatoes, amazing sausages. But the baked halloumi was hard and very salty, the bacon salty too and rubbery (I realize bacon preferences are highly personal. I like it crispy, but not burnt). French Toast was the most disappointing — weirdly drab, the bread too lightly battered and, somehow, dry.

But I would go back for something simpler. Maybe just a fried egg with those amazing sausages, and perhaps, like Balthasar, a side of perfectly sauteed spinach. Or just coffee.

IMG_2700

And so to the market.

The Stoke Newington farmer’s market is my type. It’s not very big but has just the right selection: meat, fish, vegetables, mushrooms; someone sells buffalo milk products — amazing yogurt!; another raw milk — oh, to be back in Europe… There are a couple of very good bread stalls. In the fall there are fruits stands. All of it organic and local.

IMG_2641

IMG_2642

After this long overdue reconnaissance trip, the ice has been broken, and it’s sure to become a regular Saturday excursion.

IMG_2662

A walk up High Street and along lively Stoke Newington Church Street away lies Clissold Park, which is lovely as London parks know to be. For children there’s a brilliant playground, skateboard fun park, deer enclosures, and a butterfly house in the warmer months. For a more leisurely time or a ball game there are huge lawns and shady trees. Worth spending a few lazy afternoon hours.

IMG_2645

IMG_2644

Stoke Newington farmer’s market
St Paul’s Church on Stoke Newington High Street
Saturdays from 10am to 2.30pm

The Haberdashery
170 Stoke Newington High Street
London N16 7JL
Tel: 020 3643 7123
Open Mon-Wed 9am-6pm; Thu-Sun 9am-9pm

Almond and lemon madeleines with a touch of buckwheat

24 October 2013

DSC_0522

Moving is like a big gust of wind, it shakes things up and clears the air. I’ve always loved that feeling. Thomas likes to tell how I warned him, when I met him, that I didn’t mean to stay in Berlin forever, I was planning to move around. Indeed just a few weeks after our wedding we left for New York. And we got stuck. It happens, apparently.

For many years Berlin remained the city to which we would undoubtedly return. But gradually, imperceptibly, the feeling dissipated, and New York became home. A bit by default, perhaps, though in time it was hard to envisage any other. It happens, evidently.

As our lives became ever more settled, known, easy, the itch for change was more efficiently tempered by the comfort of friends and habit. It required a bit of a leap, or a gentle nudge. The opportunity had to be seized.

Moving is liberating. Liberating from the grip of a pounding, neurotic, fabulous city constantly vying for attention. I always thought the most fascinating thing about New York is its versatility, a place where anyone can find a place and live life singularly. What I didn’t realize was how much the city, with its endless offerings and possibilities, plays a role. New York isn’t just the setting, it is a main character. It’s what makes it so hard to leave, like breaking off a relationship. And New York is the jealous type.

So I made madeleines. I had no Proustian connection but they’ve found a place right where the happy look ahead chases a little heartache. They are not traditional and exactly how I like them.

DSC_0524

From David Lebovitz‘ classic lemon madeleines with just a few substitutions. Makes about 24 madeleines.

Note: Plan ahead as the dough must rest at least one hour. I did use baking powder though there is none in traditional madeleine recipes. Next time I might try without. Resting the dough is crucial for the little humps to form, particularly if the baking powder is omitted.

120 g butter plus a little more (about a tablespoon) for the molds

3 large eggs

130g sugar

Generous pinch of salt

100 g white flour

30 g buckwheat flour

1 tsp baking powder (optional)

45 g almond flour

Melt the butter and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Brush the madeleine molds with melted butter, sprinkle a little flour, and tap off excess. Place the dusted molds in the refrigerator.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, and salt for a good 5 minutes until very frothy.

Sift together the white flour, buckwheat flour, and baking powder (if using) into the batter and fold gently with a spatula or wooden spoon. Add the almond flour. Do not overmix.

Add the lemon zest to the cooled butter. Add the butter to the batter a few spoonfuls at a time, folding carefully, Stop as soon as all the butter is incorporated.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

When ready to bake the madeleines, preheat the oven to 425° F (120° C) and place the rack in the top third of the oven.

Drop little spoonfuls of batter into each mold, just enough to fill each to 3/4. The batter will be hardened from the refrigerator, so it won’t fill the mold immediately (no need to try to spread it).

Bake for 8 to 9 minutes just until the madeleines start to turn golden. Remove from the oven, let cool a little before removing the madeleines from the molds.

They are best eaten very quickly, but will keep in a glass or metal container for one to two days.

Exciting times. Part III.

17 October 2013

IMG_0761

And here we are!

photo(10)

Much closer to here, actually

photo(5)

Unpacking

IMG_0540

Shopping

IMG_0857

Cooking

IMG_0843

Baking

IMG_0768

Eating at home

IMG_0483

And out

photo(9)

Visiting

photo(7)

Three children in school!

IMG_0686

On sunny afternoons

photo(8)

And rainy mornings

IMG_0970

Sitting in a coffee shop (because we still don’t have internet…), writing. Exciting times.


%d bloggers like this: