Ottolenghi, the morning after…

The only way for me to stave off a downer after the high of my book launch was to start the next day as I mean to go on: eating well.

I’ve spoken before of my obsession with Ottolenghi Upper Street.  I’ve even put a little love letter to the place in the appendix of Pear-shaped.  It’s all about their perfect execution of the savoury

And the sweet.

 So even though it was raining and grey and miserable on Wednesday morning, I woke up with one of my best mates, Jenny, who’d come down from Norfolk for the party, with a mug created in my honour!

We trolled off to Ottos to meet my sister, my best friend and her other half, who’d come from Sheffield, and ate our way through half of this:

I gave a copy of my book to the guys there, and in return they very generously gave me a box of their cakes, which included one of my favourites…

 and an exceptionally pretty bag of mini-meringue treats!

Best swap evah…. 

And even though I then had to go and wash up 210 glasses from the party, when I’d done that I popped in to see my parents and remembered I’d given them some St John custard donuts from the party as a going-home present…

and they hadn’t yet eaten the lot… which is just as well, as that’s my job.

My book launch

Feel like the luckiest person alive.

Pear-shaped, in the window at Daunt Books, Marylebone, my favourite bookshop in London.

Special delivery of 120 mini-custard doughnuts from St. John:

Some of my guests ate four each…you would, though.

So many amazing friends turned up to support me.  Friends I’ve had since I was two, friends I’ve made in the last month, and three fantastic ex-boyfriends with their mums –  I’m lucky I always seem to go out with men with lovely mums:

I had a very happy dad:

and my own lovely mum:

Loads of men bought the book as well as women – and some of the warmest reactions I’ve had so far are from men, though they seem a little embarrassed about buying a ‘girl’s book’…

These two are probably a little young for some of the content….

My dear friend Susie with the last bite of the last donut, at The Marylebone, at closing time.

Thank you to my fab publishers Harper Collins for putting the whole thing on and making it such a special night for me.  Thank you to everyone who took a plane, train, tube, got a babysitter, got there any which way, tried to get there, sent a message of support, helped with the nuts, helped with the drinks, brought flowers, brought gifts, tolerated the fact that I didn’t get to say two words to many of you.  Thank you to everyone who generously bought the book.   I have never ever felt so absolutely overwhelmed with friendship and support, and I promise at the film premier I shall personally tell Alec Baldwin that it’s not all about him, it’s about you xx

The Ledbury – yes, it is that good

Worth persisting to get a table for the £35 set lunch (I waited around six weeks).

Foie-gras parfait on a chestnut sable – seriously could have eaten at least 15 of these without blinking:

A rolled macaroni of crab and pumpkin with ginger and clementine (doesn’t look as beautiful as it tasted, but it was as good, if not better than the crab lasagne at Galvin.)

Wild brill with normal cauliflower, martian Romanesco and shrimp:

Rhubarb millefeuille with yoghurt ice cream:

Lush bourbon caramel, blood orange jelly, and millefeuille macaroon

and best of all, bread

Specifically this perfect buttery little bacon and onion escargot (not as in snail, well, yes as in snail, but as in pain au raisin / escargot, not slug.)

The best thing I’ve eaten this year, admittedly only 12 days in.  Bacon viennoiserie, my tip for 2012, you heard it here first…

The Alford Arms, Frithsden and Ferris, Ferris…

How could you not a love a pub that quotes Ferris Bueller on its intro page?  I guess if you were Cameron Frye’s dad…

Ferris Bueller was released 26 years ago, which makes me feel old.  I can still play back extended scenes in my mind.  Maybe that should make me feel young or at least mentally agile?  Either way, having just googled the actor who played Cameron, I am delighted to see that he has of late starred in a show called Stella, as well as Cougar Town. 

Anyway, The Alford Arms.  We managed to make it there with no map, two non-functioning iPhones, and faulty directions scrawled on a cheese menu.  Am so glad we persevered – it was magnificent – the perfect country pub within an hour’s drive from London, with outstanding food. 

Having eaten the best part of two cows in the last three days, I skipped the Sunday roast, but it broke my heart not to eat this Yorkshire pudding:

Instead I had two starters.  Scottish mackerel on horseradish new potato salad with rhubarb syrup.

I was dubious about the mackerel / rhubarb combo, but good old Nigel is never wrong and the above was a triumph – the sharpness of the rhubarb slicing through the rich, oiliness of the fish, with a punchy, tender-firm potato salad back up plan.    (By the way, did you know rhubarb is a vegetable, not a fruit!  I had no idea.)

Then on to pan-fried duck liver on eggy brioche with grain mustard sauce:

So French tasting and luxurious I almost wept with happiness.  And finalement, blackberry frangipane with blackberry ice cream:

and Seville orange trifle:

with a perfect, golden, caramelised-round-the-edges pistachio biscuit.

If there’d been a decent dollop of custard in this trifle this would be a perfect 10 meal for me, but I’m harsh in all things related to custard dearths, so let’s call it a 9.8.

MsMarmitelover and I enjoy some Thai and tea and cake

Saturday afternoon was set aside for tidying one of the 14 piles of chaos in my home, doing laundry, and cooking a slow roast beef dish for supper.

Instead I went for a quick Thai lunch with MsMarmitelover at Fitou:

Super spicy gang penang with coconut rice
Sea bass with chilli and lemon

and found myself still with her three hours later, eating cherry cheesecake at Ottolenghi:

and having far too much fun to leave.   As a consequence, my dinner party did not go off quite as planned.

To be fair it started with a disaster anyway, at 7am, when I decided to make chocolate panna cotta while hung over.  I dropped the molten chocolate in the milk, and splattered it everywhere.

although they turned out fine in the end:

The Ottolenghi Jerusalem artichoke pithivier was over-ambitious on my part.  The inside was delicious

as any combination of cream, lemon zest, rosemary, and Jerusalem artichoke would be; but I’m cack-handed as hell when it comes to assemblage:

and my crimping ended in a leak that had to be patched up with random swatches of pastry.  Nonetheless the final product tasted lush – very very mellow, and I guess next time I’ll fail harder.

Being a total puff pastry novice, I decided not to bother scoring an inner-circle on my little cheese, onion and tomato canapes, and ended up with some rather rebellious snacks.

However my figs soaked in port:

and then baked into biscuits with orange zest and polenta were a delight, albeit the yellowest things I’ve ever made. 

Goodman: good. Very good.

I’m a total Hawksmoor-groupie.  If I’m paying upwards of £20 for a steak, that’s where I’ll pay it.  The Cut is too Park Lane.  Gauchos?  Average.  But my friend has been singing Goodman’s praises for an age so I thought I’d give it a go.  It’s a winner.

Terrific rib-eye:

Fantastic sides, notably truffle chips.  I hate truffles, why order truffle chips?  Firstly – my friend doesn’t hate them; secondly – they were executed perfectly – crisp exterior, fluffy innards, perfect dimensions.  And finally, I smothered them in Bearnaise, which I don’t hate in the slightest.

Plus great creamed spinach with gruyere.

And a little chocolate brownie mousse pudding to top it all off:

Happy days, to have two restaurants in central London serving such delicious meat, classy sides and quality booze in sexy, masculine rooms.

If I had to choose between them I wouldn’t.  I’d start at Hawksmoor Covent Garden with a Pina Colada and a cheeseburger.  Then I’d cab it to Goodman’s for a tranche of ribeye, some chips, spinach, and a glass of Zinfandel and then Merlot, then get back in the cab to Hawksmoor for campari based cocktails in the bar made by Shaky Pete, best bartender in London.  Anyone fancy joining me?

The real thing…

The lovely folks at Harper Collins sent me the first real copy of my book today, as seen modeled here by two of my dear friends.

It’s such a strange feeling.  Great but peculiar, something that’s lived in your head for so long and is finally real.  I wish my grandparents were around to see this – my two grandmothers in particular, who were both amazing cooks, and from whom I learnt that the greatest expression of love is over-feeding.

For some reason its arrival has sent me into a flurry of over-ambition in the kitchen.  In the minutes between arriving home from work and seeing friends I’ve been on overdrive – thrice-boiled candied orange peel with cardamom…

Maria Elia winning combo rosemary and orange biscotti…

and Heston’s simple chocolate cookies that I cocked up royally:

Great taste but format was not as Heston destined…

I guess the thing about putting your heart and soul on the page is that you have to be prepared for people to hate it and hate you.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for that, but still.

Anyway, the very clever folk at PeerIndex are giving away some advance copies to readers who really love books about food and heartbreak and love.  If you’re one of them and promise not to turn troll, then see if there are any still up for grabs.

If not, it’s out two weeks on Thursday…the 19th…

Bull and Last Day of the Year

I hate New Year’s Eve.  I decided to get it out of the way early so on the 30th I went and ticked the following NYE boxes:

  • Got drunk
  • Ordered unnecessary Jagermeisters (although aren’t all Jagermeisters unnecessary?)
  • Ordered friend to buy double coffee Patron tequilas all round (a joke, sort of, but he took me at my word)
  • Smoked verboten smokes
  • Had a little fight in the street
  • Had another little barney with a hot bouncer in a terrible Mayfair members’ club, over which toilets were allowed for povs like me vs. which toilets were reserved for trust-fund-babies
  • Ended up in random home of trust-fund-baby, fending off advances and playing the name game (no, Putin is not a female pop star, yes, Pacman is alive, sort of, well, till the ghosts get him.)
Job done.  Which meant I could go to a lovely gastropub on New Year’s Eve and not worry about having to find some teenage kicks.   So to the Bull and Last, near Highgate, which has some of the best food in London.  
It’s at least as good as The Harwood in Fulham, but for my money is a far more relaxed and enjoyable experience, and the service is great.  We started with amazing canapes: 
Goan chicken pasty with cucumber raita, pig’s head dim sum (more like slow cooked shredded pork cheek in a beautiful light pastry with sesame seeds on top), braised shoulder of venison kromeski (basically a croquette), and this lush beetroot and vodka cured gravadlax on home made soda bread:
For starters I had chicken and cep orecchiette (anyone who reads this blog will know that I never say no to pasta.)   
Very delicate oricchiette, more baby’s ears than normal oriccchiette, with a very earthy almost-broth like  sauce, and perfectly tender chicken thighs.  Friend had scallops, Jerusalem artichoke & Alsace bacon:
For mains I had char grilled beef sirloin, creamed ratte potato, cavolo nero and trompette mushrooms.  My photo does no justice to it, but suffice to say it was immense – perfect execution with quality ingredients.  
I’ve had such a year of soils and foams and deconstructed sea-vegetables and all I ever really want to eat is beautiful simple delicious food like this.
For dessert, chocolate mousse, roast William pear and hazlenuts:
and then a course called ‘Sweeties’ which was actually four amazing petit fours:
Amaretti nougat, salted caramel truffle, lemon parfait sandwich, and blueberry marshmallow!
And a glass or two of champagne, just because…