February – the good part (with the food)

This month the ebook version of my new novel, The Dish, came out (paperback in May!) and so to celebrate two of its themes (restaurants & awesome food) I spent the first three weeks eating out at some amazing restaurants.  And then the final week surviving on nowt but liquid at a juice camp.  I’m still at juice camp – and will write about it when I’ve recovered from the trauma of necking only celery and spinach juice daily…

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But for now I thought I’d torture myself by posting some of these lush foody pics…

1 – Petersham Nurseries in Surrey – written about here: https://stellanewmansblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/lunch-at-petersham-nurseries/

2 – A few places in Cornwall – my, but it was beautiful!

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Food wise – we started with an epic steak breakfast pasty at Chough, the ace bakery

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Followed by lunch at Rick Stein’s renowned Seafood Restaurant – and it was a bargain, 3 courses for £18 – a special charity menu for Save The Children in January and February…with an exceptional dark chocolate mousse with roasted pear, ginger and pear sorbet and chocolate crumb…

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And just because my friend Rebecca and I were a little peckish later…

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On the way home, just because we hadn’t eaten enough yet, we went to a brilliant pub near Bristol, The Pony and Trap – in Chew Magna (apt name…)  I’m telling you, home made crisps with sour cream and chive dip are the way forward…as are homemade goujons with tartare sauce – one of the best sauces on the planet, besides bearnaise, and Heinz ketchup – fishcake, burger and sticky ale pudding with salted caramel ice cream…..

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3 – And finally, on the day of publication, I raced down at lunchtime to the insanely hyped Kitty Fisher’s in Mayfair for a walk-in seat at their bar – the only way you can get a table before June or some such! Very good indeed – especially that cod’s roe on slim fingers (well, slimmer than mine) of toast, and the lamb chops….

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And as if that wasn’t gluttony enough, I learned how to make bread!  At my favourite bakery, Bread Ahead, down in Borough Market – makers of the world’s best custard doughnut – more of which here… http://blog.jamesvillas.co.uk/ode-custard-doughnut-stella-newman/

The course was a three hour French baking class, our teacher Emmanuel was patient and immensely knowledgeable, and at the end we got to take home (and drunkenly eat, subsequently, at a bus stop in Camden – d’oh) the fruits of our labour – fougasse, baguette, pain de campagne.  Triple high five, with hands covered in sticky, wet dough…

I guess I deserve all the green juice I’m currently getting…

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One minute Q&A with baker extraordinaire, Fergus Jackson, Brick House Bread

I worked in a lovely posh deli in the run up to Christmas that sold all sorts of delicious treats. The best thing about this place was that you could eat whatever you wanted from the shop floor for your lunch. (After two weeks with me on the payroll I think they might be regretting that policy.)

On day one I tried my first slice of Brick House Raisin and Walnut Bread with some butter and over-priced Italian virgin-bee honey: love at first bite. Brick House – an artisan sourdough specialist based in south-east London – have been voted one of London’s top bakeries in the FT. Their Peckham Rye, along with having the best name ever, is current holder of the Real Bread Campaign’s London Loaf.

Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness

All their bread is superb – and you can read more about it in their own words, here:

http://www.brickhousebread.com/#about

And there’s more! They’re opening their first Bakery Cafe in early March. Housed in an old electrical warehouse off Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, it will comprise a working bakery, shop and cafe all under one roof. Award winning sourdough, sweet things, simple breakfasts and serious sandwiches – what is not to love about that?

I asked Fergus, king of Brick House, a few quick questions – because I love bread, and I’m quite fond of questions too:

Your ideal Valentine’s meal
At home, dining out on Valentines Day is hateful 🙂
Starter: A Manhattan served with some bar snacks
Main: Steak frites, bitter leaf salad
Pudding: Rhubarb & custard (creme pat) tart

The very best thing about being a baker?
No mater how shit life gets, you’ll always be able to have good bread.

Your best cheap eat in London?
Lehore, Umberston Street, E1. The best Tandoori lamb chops and daal.

The most delicious thing you’ve eaten in London in recent months?
The crab croquetas at Barrafina, Adelaide St

What would your dream job be if you weren’t a baker?
Architect

Who’s been your biggest inspiration in your career / life?
An unassuming guy called Frank Sally. He taught me at the SFBI (San Francisco Baking Institute). He’s phenomenally knowledgeable, supportive and humble. I doubt I’d be where I am today without his help.

What’s your favourite sandwich?
There’s a deli called Rhea’s on Valencia Street in San Francisco that names all of it’s sandwiches after streets in the city. Their ‘Delores’ is the finest sandwich that ever passed my lips. Smoked peppered turkey, spicy cranberry sauce, muenster, bacon, tomatoes, red onion, pickles, pickled jalapeño, spinach, and garlic aioli on a Dutch crunch sub. I honestly think I got high from eating it.

One minute Q&A with master chef Marianne Lumb

In my new novel, The Dish, restaurant critic Laura Parker visits LuxEris – a Eurotrashy, mega-big restaurant in the Square Mile – and emerges, three hours later, filled with venom, bile and the start of food poisoning, thanks to a dodgy plate of Eels Flottante.   LuxEris represents the worst of London’s restaurant scene – staff who think they’re doing you a favour by letting you through the door, a giant room where you can barely hear yourself think, and worst of all a menu filled with trend-led concoctions you wouldn’t feed to a goat: Heritage Apple and Veal Crumble, anyone?

LuxEris is a work of fiction but there are several restaurants in London that could, unfortunately, give it a run for its money.  On the other end of the spectrum entirely is the fantastic, award-winning and entirely not made up Marianne’s, in Notting Hill.  London’s smallest fine-dining restaurant has only 14 covers, making it feel like you’re almost at home – if your home was an ultra-elegant yet relaxing and understated cocoon of great taste.   The service is perfect – warm, friendly and attentive. – And it serves some of the most beautiful, modern, delicious food you’ve ever eaten.  In fact the only fault with it is that it’s pretty damn popular so you’ll need to book in advance.

You might recognise its head chef and owner Marianne Lumb, from Masterchef: The Professionals, a few years back.    A sunny, six foot blond who’s a master at knives (her first book, Kitchen Knife Skills, was an international best seller) – she works in the rather petite kitchen six days a week, turning out the sort of seasonal, high-quality perfect plates you dream of: potato gnocchi with Parmesan foam, Agen prune with Madagascan vanilla souffle and home-made Armagnac ice cream…mmm!  I ate there last year, and you can see the pics and read about it here:

http://stellanewmansblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/you-are-really-such-pretty-one.html

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Once upon a time, Marianne and I used to work together – and so she kindly agreed to answer a few little questions for me:

Your ideal Valentine’s meal: 

The perfect steak, probably rib-eye – we have some highland wagyu at the restaurant this year – with some truffles, smoothest pomme puree and some purple sprouting broccoli

The very best thing about being a chef: 

The creativity

Your best cheap eat in London:
Alounak on Westbourne Grove – the Mirza Ghassemi is good there, one is never enough.
The most delicious thing you ate in London in recent months:
I really enjoyed an apple tarte tatin at The Clove Club.  It was flawless.
What would your dream job be if you weren’t a chef?
Professional skiier or surfer
Your favourite burger in the UK?
Shake Shack
The best way with a potato you’ve ever encountered:
Robuchon’s mash, or our dauphinoise
Who’s been your biggest inspiration in your career / life? 
My father

Superstar chef Dan Doherty of Duck & Waffle – 1 minute Q&A

My new novel, The Dish, is a romantic comedy about a relationship between a restaurant critic and a chef, but the main love affair – as in all my books – is with food.

In recent years London has seen the arrival of many brilliant (and not so brilliant) new food trucks, pop-ups and car-park-kimchee-ramen joints – but one of the most consistently excellent places to eat has been Duck & Waffle, on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, near Liverpool Street station. D&W has it all – creative, beautifully executed food; a glamorous, fun atmosphere; one of the most spectacular views of London – and it’s open 24 hours a day, every day of the week!  If you go there and don’t order the flatbreads, don’t ever bother speaking to me again.

Executive chef, Dan Doherty (you can buy his fabulous book here! – right after you’ve bought mine) is one of the most generous, talented and hard-working people I’ve ever met.  He kindly let me study his kitchen during evening service to observe a master chef at work. (Supremely calm, totally focussed, insane attention to detail – none of your sweary, testosteroney nonsense.) Plus he didn’t report me to security when I spent twenty five minutes going up and down in the amazing glass lifts, trying to capture the extraordinary view of the city in fast motion, that makes it onto p.75 of the paperback.

I asked him some quick food-related questions and here’s what he said:

Your ideal Valentine’s meal
I hate valentines and refuse to celebrate. So I’d say a pizza 🙂 or a rich pasta dish, ox cheek ragout?
If you weren’t cooking, where would you eat? (other than D&W)
 Simple, easy and fun places. No romance – you have the whole year for that.
The very best thing about being a chef?

Cooking whatever you crave, it’s also relaxing too. Most importantly I get to do what I love.

Your best cheap eat in London?

Hard one – Honey & Co set lunch. Not really a cheap eat but it’s cheap and bloody tasty.

The most delicious thing you’ve eaten in London in recent months 

King crab at Beast.

What would your dream job be if you weren’t a chef?  (I think the answer might be footballer, but might be imagining that.)
Yes! Or anything to do with sport.
Your favourite burger in the UK
 Patty & bun locally, Big Mac if hungover.
The best way with a potato you’ve ever encountered
 Mash the bugger. Loads of cream. And butter. Or chips. Or dauphinoise. Too many decisions.

Who’s been your biggest inspiration in your career / life? 

 Probably my best friend and fellow chef Tom Cenci.
View from the top on a rather sunny day
View from the top on a sunny day 

Britain’s best food critic! 1 minute Q&A

My first novel, Pearshaped, is about a pudding developer for a supermarket – a job I used to do (more or less: I worked in soup, breakfast cereal and vegetable side dishes – sadly not in cake.)

My second, Leftovers, is about a girl who makes TV ads for pizzas. Hmmm, I used to do that too – are you sensing a theme here?

My brand new book, The Dish – is about a food critic – my absolute dream job but one I have yet to do. It was partly inspired by a hilarious hissy fit American restaurateur and TV personality Guy Fieri threw, when NYTimes food critic Pete Wells gave his restaurant the mother of all slaggings.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/14/dining/reviews/restaurant-review-guys-american-kitchen-bar-in-times-square.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

And it was partly inspired by my belief that a food critic needs to be anonymous in order to best replicate a normal diner’s experience. Ruth Reichl, award winning New York Times critic, wrote a whole book about her sometimes-extravagant attempts to disguise herself while on the job – Garlic and Sapphires

False moustaches aside, Reichl has a point. I’ve eaten out with a food reviewer and it is a very different experience from being a civilian, as dear Elizabeth Hurley would call us mere mortals. Free Champagne, extra amuse bouches, obsequiousness-a-go-go.

That’s why my favourite restaurant critic is the brilliant Marina O’Loughlin in The Guardian. Well, that’s not the only reason she’s my favourite. Other reasons: she is knife-sharp, and funny and a great writer and her palate is spot on. She basically nails a place without putting herself in the centre of it, her ego is not on the page – just her ability to bring a restaurant fully to life as though you were sitting right there at the table with her.

She very kindly agreed to a speedy Q&A with me, below:

Your ideal Valentine’s meal / restaurant

On the sofa, in front of Millionaire Matchmaker, eating cheese on toast. ALONE. Am very anti-Valentine’s, or any kind of ‘organised’ romance.

The very best thing about being a restaurant critic

All those restaurants, of course.

The most delicious thing you’ve eaten in London in recent months

The game pithivier at Portland. It made me come over all unnecessary. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/feb/06/portland-london-w1-restaurant-review-marina-oloughlin

Most jumped on bandwagon in food

Pulled bloody pork. When KFC start doing pulled chicken, you know we’ve reached peak bandwagon.

What job do you dream of doing (if any) – given you have a lot of people’s dream job

I’d like to work for Patty Stanger, The Millionaire Matchmaker.

Your favourite burger in the UK

Have a massive soft spot for Patty & Bun.

The best way with a potato you’ve ever encountered

Joel Robuchon’s mash is ambrosial – reputed to be 50% butter. Otherwise, crisps.

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(This is not a picture of Marina, by the way.)

Lunch at Petersham Nurseries

Ok, so February is the month the e-book version of my new novel, The Dish, comes out. Paperback lovers – it’s coming soonish, May 20th, hurrah!

The Dish is all about the world of restaurants, chefs and food critics. I wanted to celebrate its publication by eating more than usual this month (not least because I’m going to Insane Diet Camp soon – more of that in due course.)

So I’ll be posting anything I eat that looks / tastes good this month on here. First up, Petersham Nurseries – a place I’ve been meaning to go to forever but haven’t because:

a) it’s bloody expensive, and
b) it’s a million miles from where I live.

Fortunately a very kind friend offered to take me as a special treat and I can heartily say that when someone else is paying, it’s fantastic – great food, terrific staff, and oh so pretty.