America – land of food as big as your head, and bigger.

God Bless America.  I love this country.  I’m currently in California.  If I lived in California I’d be morbidly obese because of stuff like this:

but also this:

Hard to show scale here – I did try re-arranging the papayas, to little avail.

Seriously, you don’t stand a chance when even a healthy choice like a papaya is super-sized.

These papayas were in Ralphs supermarket, where the shelves resemble this Andreas Gursky photo that I love, which sold for £1.7 million, making it the most expensive photo ever sold.

I get a bit Rainman when I’m in American supermarkets.  I just love this sort of shit:

  and check out this selection of pickles:

So much beauty in too much choice.

I actually went to Ralphs to check on a couple of things in the book.  Firstly, their selection of Ben and Jerry’s.  Am delighted to report back on this Limited Edition flavour with an excellent pun title:

My list of dream jobs goes as follows:

AA Gill’s job
Chief namer of new Ben and Jerry’s flavours
Tina Fey’s joke sounding board
Alec Baldwin’s cleaner
Writer on The Simpsons / The Onion

The other reason I entered Ralphs was to look at their cakes.   In Pear-Shaped, Sophie goes to Ralphs in a state of heartbreak, looking for a sugary treat, and is paralysed by choice.  She looks at the cakes and they all look too big / too fake.  I wanted to check that I was on the right track – given that the book is in final proof stage, it’s a bit late to start fact checking, but hey ho…  Anyway, am happy to report they sell exactly the sort of over-sized, over-fussed up baked goods that I’d imagined, comme ca:

Where is Dan Big Hands when you need him?  These cakes look normal sized, but they are not.  They are grotesque, gigantique, gargantuan, fundamentally gross parodies of normal cakes.

Finally, I leave you with what I find a sinister line-up:

As you know America is a litigious nation, so I shall reserve my jokes for another time, another place.  For now let’s just give thanks that we are not chickens at the mercy of Chef Emeril’s Chicken Rub.

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Wellcome Dirt, and Da Polpo

London in the summer: it’s rained for ten minutes ever half hour since 9 this morning.  The only thing to do on a day like today is be cultural and stuff one’s face.

We popped in to the Wellcome in Euston to see the exhibition on Dirt.  I love the Wellcome – it’s always got something fascinating on, the space is great, they have these beautiful lights in the coffee shop that change colour

and the Peyton and Byrne concession has very good coffee and these endearing Hazlenut Bears, competing with the more conventionally attractive Gingerbread Men for one’s affections.

The exhibition itself was good – quite a lot of faeces involved, some grim stuff from 1930s Germany and some good quotes on the wall in a font I like:

We then headed to Covent Garden to try out Da Polpo, sister restaurant to Polpo, Polpetto, and Spuntino.   This family’s growing, fast.  Da Polpo’s definitely my favourite member. 

Partly because the staff were fantastic – charming, knowledgeable, friendly; partly because the room is really relaxed and calm – far less effortful than Spuntino, and not as crammed as Polpo.

But mostly because the food is more consistent and coherent.

We had a couple of the cicheti, small bites – an arancini that was ok (not as good as the ones at Bocca) and a betta crocchetta, with parmesan and potato.

Then we had two pizzette, small pizzas. These are not like Pizza Express small pizzas, which seem to shrink every year.  Rather, they’re thin, crisp and light, with delicious toppings.  Spuntino does a good line in them, and Da Polpo offers even more.   Totally delicious.  One bianco, with red onion and mozzarella,

and one with soft egg, spinach and parmesan

I asked my companion Dan to put his finger next to the pizzetta, so you can see the scale, but Dan has big hands and you wouldn’t necessarily be able to judge it.  He said it’s 12 inches across.  He would.  I’d say it was 10.

My favourite thing was this super-simple shaved fennel, curly endive and toasted almond salad in a light lemony dressing:

The only slightly under-whelming dish was these meatballs, made with chickpeas, spinach and ricotta

which to be fair I take the blame for, as I don’t see the point of meat-free meatballs.  Just call them balls, or veg balls or something.  And then don’t order them.  (Although the tomato sauce in which they were covered was excellent – very fresh, clean and sweet tasting.)

We ate loads and the bill was less than £13 a head, including service.  A very strong 8.5/10.

One other noteworthy point – in the ladies’ loos (I cannot vouch for the men’s on this occasion) – if you look up, you can see people walking over your head on the glass in the pavement above, which is mildly unnerving.

Morito

Morito is the little offshoot tapas bar of Moro, the excellent Moorish restaurant on Exmouth Market.  Moro is consistently great, and consistently busy / booked up, so having a walk-in place next door is a good idea.

We went to see Sylvie Guillem at Sadlers Wells and popped in here beforehand.  (I know sweet f.a. about ballet, but I’ve seen Sylvie Guillem dance twice before, and she is mesmerising – her body’s like a ribbon.  I want to be her almost more than I want to be Tina Fey.)

We were in a bit of a rush eating and I forgot to write down details but in essence we ate this:

Bread basket – good – 7.5/10, particularly the flatbreads

which come with a little dish of sumac, salt, chilli, and a fennel related arrangement,

and which were delicious served with this pretty, pretty beetroot, feta and dill dip (I love dill deeply.)

The absolute stand-out dish was the chickpeas – super moreish – crispy, crunchy salty little explosions, on a bed of fresh, sharp cucumber and tomato.

Ottolenghi has tried to recreate the dish – he fries the chickpeas, although I wonder if they’ve been roasted and then fried – not sure.  I shall return to this recipe at a later date and try it myself.

We ate this delicious, tender pork with peppers

and these phenomenal spicy salty Mojo potatoes, which had coriander and chilli – and were very similar to the potatoes I ate in Lanzarote after I broke my finger when a surf board fell on me.

The chickpeas and the Mojo potatoes were exceptional and I’ll be coming back for both.  I’ll try Ottolenghi’s version of the chickpeas and report on how close it is, and I’m going to hunt down a recipe for these bad boys too.

Between here, Jose, Brindisa, Dehesa, The Salt Yard, Barrafina and Opera Tavern,  Londoners are getting pretty damn spoilt on the high-quality tapas front.  Now if only there was a similar flourishing of places serving top-notch  made-at-the-table guacamole, I’d be very happy indeed.

Jose on Bermondsey Street

Jose Pizarro’s new tapas and sherry bar, which opened a few weeks ago on Bermondsey Street, is great.  I’ll keep it short, as I went to a second tapas bar, Morito, for dinner after lunch here today and there’s only so much small plate action a girl can take.

First things first, I love Bermondsey Street – the buildings are beautiful and quirky and modern and mixed up and cool, and they come in great colours:

Very spring / summer ’11, this sort of putty colour.  Never did it for me in H&M, but it works on a building.

There’s a couple of very good pubs, the fantastic Garrison restaurant which serves a mean steak and chips:

gorgeous little boutiques, the Fashion and Textile Museum, a great looking Vietnamese coffee shop, the awesome London Glassblowing Studio on Bermondsey Street where they have beautiful objects such as this:

…and then you pull back a block and realise you’re a stone’s throw from The Shard.

which may become less hideous at night when it’s lit up, or when it’s finished, we shall see.  Anyway, Jose is on the corner of Bermondsey Street and Morocco Street.
 
I want to live in this building off Morocco Street.  I love Flatiron style buildings, they always remind me of wedges of cheese.

Get to Jose a few minutes before it opens at midday or you’ll have to queue.  We got there just in the nick of time as it was instantly rammed.

It’s very little, which I think is a good thing.  Easy to say when you’ve got a seat and aren’t having to queue.

Everything we ate was delicious and extremely well executed.

You get a little jar of crispy crunchy broad beans, or haba in Spanish.  At least I think that’s what our waiter said, I was pretty much tipsy from the moment I sat down and started necking white rioja.  I’m a totally crap daytime drinker but decided to embrace the concept of the siesta, what with it being a beautiful sunny day and all.

We had the tortilla, which was made with honey, walnut, aubergine and blue cheese.  Normally I like my tortilla’s pretty much straight up potato, onion, no chaser – but this really was delicious.

Then we had some more wine and some stuff and I think judging from my photos these are almost definitely prawns with garlic and chilli:

They look like they’re spooning, don’t they?  Very romantic.

Also some Iberica ham.  Salt and fat, salt and fat – what is not to love about salt and fat?

Bread and tomato.  Jose’s rendition was faultless – super fresh tomato, clean flavours, perfect slightly soggy bread with fruity olive oil on it.  So simple and so pleasing, I could have eaten another five portions.  I should have eaten another five portions because I can’t remember what else we ate…Oh well, them’s the breaks.

I do know that after a very good caffe con leche we went and sat in the park and stuffed St John custard donuts in our gobs, which was the perfect end to a perfect morning.

Then off home for a siesta before doing it all again…..

Maltby Street

You know that feeling that you’re the last to know about something?  I hate that feeling.  Like on Popbitch when someone would post ‘corn’, a scathing response to some gossip that was as old as the repeal of the Corn Laws.  (I secretly liked ‘corn’ as a diss – it meant those two years doing GCSE history weren’t wasted after all.)

Maltby Street’s been on my radar for ages, since my old flatmate Slash (not that Slash, though I did meet that Slash in LA years ago and he was terribly nice) mentioned it, in a ‘I’m surprised you don’t know about Maltby Street when all you ever do is talk about your next meal,’ kind of way.

Strictly speaking I’m probably not the last to know, as Maltby Street still feels like a well-kept secret and is joyously un-rammed, unlike Borough Market, which now permanently feels like Thorpe Park on  August Bank Holiday weekend.

The nearest tube is London Bridge, home of THE MASSIVE CHARMLESS SHARD, which is not any prettier close up than from a distance.

Maltby Street actually refers to two stretches of railway arches about 5 minutes walk from London Bridge, which house some fantastic food retailers / wholesalers. 


We started with a coffee in the sunshine outside Monmouth Coffee.  There’s such a relaxed atmosphere – it’s very low-key and communal – couples, families, grannies, fashionable Scandinavians, the odd super-hipster with silly glasses and pale pink pedal pushers. 

We walked past these rather impressive goat’s curd and garlic confit crostini, 50p a pop, at 40 Maltby Street.

and past various arches owned by Lassco, the architectural salvage company, with random things like these old radiators

and these cinema chairs for sale:

Among these arches are fabulous little shops like Mons, which sells delicious French cheeses

and Fern Verrow

who sell biodynamically farmed seasonal produce like these plump, perfect broad beans

and these slim fennel, which look almost alien:

If you then walk through to Druid Street, you get to this lot:

More fantastic meat, sausages, cheeses:

and breads:

Most exciting for me are these guys:

The St John Bakery, which is only open to the public on a Saturday, sells their fabulous bread:

 
but more importantly one of my favourite things in the world, the St John custard donut.

I know it’s pathetic to post two such similar pictures, but I honestly love these donuts so much I couldn’t bear not to put both on here…

I’m coming back next week to spend some time here with the King of Donuts, Justin – if I don’t die of excitement in the mean time.

After our little adventure, we rushed back over to Bermondsey Street for 11.55, to queue outside Jose in time for midday opening, more of which forthwith…