Saturday, 29 September 2012

Jerusalem, Recipe Book by Yotam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamimi

I recently wrote a post about some of my favourite recipe books, and although these covered a wide range of different varieties and styles of cooking I think they all have a common theme. They are more than recipe books, they tell stories. And not just about food, about people - who we are and how we interact and our cultural history. 

The new book from famed chef Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Jerusalem, is a magnificent book which tells the rich tapestry of the cities history through its dishes, flavours and ingredients. Having both grown up in the city at the same time but Sami on the Arab east and Yotam on the Jewish west  it really is a fascinating portrait of a very complex city. 

As well as the detailed introduction which explains a little about the history and passion of the region, all the recipes come with short passages of explanation and the relaxed narrative style means you could  be absorbed without the slightest intention of doing any cooking. 

This is just what I like in a recipe book, I want to be able to pick it up, flick through it and feel like i'm learning more than just the correct weights and measures for making a quiche. The recipe book market is seriously crowded and most of what is published is repeated recipes on tired themes. I can't say I know a lot about cooking from this part of the world and it makes me want to learn more especially because dishes typical to this region that most readers might know a little something about - kugel, bagels, strudel - are left out.

I own Ottolenghi's previous book, Plenty, and although is a beautiful book, full of many interesting dishes, I've mainly used it for inspiration and ideas having barely made a full recipe from it. I never found it that accessible (and not just because it was vegetarian food) so wondered how i'd fare with Jerusalem.

Although there are still many unusual spices and herbs, and this is after all why Ottolenghi is loved, there were instantly many recipes that caught my eye and I thought 'I have to make that NOW'.

After a trip our to stock up on what appeared to be essentials for any meal in the book - tahini, za'atar and sumac (and if anyone knows a good source of affordable saffron, do let me know) - I made Na'ama's Fattoush, a chopped salad with stale bread and a homemade buttermilk dressing and Kofta b'siniyah, meatballs with a tahini sauce. Both were absolutely delicious and really easy to make. This is homely, sociable food, to be shared on large platters with lots of drinks.

Fattoush and Kofta B'siniyah from Jerusalem

Jerusalem as you'd expect of any Ottolenghi book is, of course, beautifully put together with lots of enticing photography and a lovely cloth finish on the cover. Hopefully the other halves mother doesn't read my blog, because i'm definitely buying her a copy of Jerusalem for Christmas.

Jerusalem is published by Ebury publishing and is available to buy now, RRP £27.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Review: Blackfriars Restaurant, Friars Street, Newcastle

One of the wonderful things about living in a city is the quiet corners you can stumble upon, that seem completely disconnected from the life around them and make you feel like you're in another world or another time. Blackfriars restaurant and its surrounding buildings is one of those places.

Surrounded on one side by the gargantuan consumerist monstrosity that is The Gate and the gaudy lights of China Town on the other, you wouldn't believe that hidden just behind in a quiet courtyard is one of the oldest buildings in Newcastle, a 1239 Dominican Friary that now houses Blackfriars Restaurant and Banquet Hall. If you've never discovered this lovely little corner before have a peek next time you're in town, it really is rather nice, although after struggling past Sinners and Tiger Tiger most things would seem so.

Blackfriars courtyard, Newcastle
If you were lucky enough to be able to house your restaurant in an ancient medieval friary doing anything but traditional British would be somewhat missing the point. I'm the first person to hate a themed restaurant but none of the decor touches or playing up of the British produce seems out of place or at all forced. And that included the wooden platter my starter was served on.

I was invited to review the restaurant on a Saturday lunch time. As a small aside to this point, if you've been read my blog before you'll know me to be shouty, sweary and opinionated therefore I would not say I liked somewhere just because I'd been offered a free meal.

The lunch we had was one of the best in a long while. I wrote a post recently about the lunch deal at Pan Haggerty and my disappointment with the whole experience. After writing I realised one of the main things lacking was any sense of atmosphere or warmth (plus the faux chic cuisine wasn't helping). Having a beautiful old building will help, but there was a relaxed feeling and a nice hum about the place. 2 courses will set you back £15 and for 3 £18, given the portion size, quality of ingredients and skill of cooking it goes down in my book as very good value.

We started with the ham hock and piccalilli and the mussels which came in a cream and sorrel sauce, all mopped up with the freshly baked house bread. They run artisan and beginners bread classes so as expected this was very good.

Homemade ham hock, Blackfriars

Mussels (obviously)

The ham hock was a huge slice of beautifully seasoned pork and the tangy piccalilli was a great accompaniment (and i never usually eat condiments like this). The other half was very impressed with the sweet, juicy mussels.

Lots of places bang on these days about the sourcing of their ingredients and it's become difficult to tell where the genuine intention is vs the marketing spin. Like the oaky decor, the mentions of locality and seasonal produce didn't appear to be a hollow facade, and place mats described the producers they buy from. Without these though, you would still be able to tell they buy good ingredients from top quality, local sources because it tastes like they do.

This was very much the case in the main courses. The other half opted for the steak, perfectly cooked rare, tender and with an incredible flavour of, well, meat. Deciding to stick to a porcine theme, I went for the rare breed pork belly with black pudding and carrot puree. Now i've never thought I liked black pudding before, and when the plate was presented with a huge doorstep of the stuff I was a little worried, but this was goddam tasty. So rich, well seasoned and earthy, and complimented the succulent pork belly very well along with the sweetness of the carrot puree.

Proper autumnal food (although it was about 25 degrees outside and glaring sunshine when we were having lunch).

Rare breed pork belly, black pudding and carrot puree at Blackfriars

Rump steak and chips

I got ice cream for pudding.

I don't think i've ever been possessed to get ice cream in a restaurant before, it seems like such a non-pudding. A cop out for pudding wimps, for those who can't handle the grown up puddings.

Well shake me sideways, what have i been missing out on all these years gorging on chocolate cakes and the like. A bowl of ice cream after a meal, so simple, so refreshing, so wonderfully delicious. Included were a sticky toffee ice cream, lemon curd ice cream and pink grapefruit sorbet.

And before you start getting worried about me, I also ate half a sticky toffee pudding, possibly THE best sticky toffee pudding ever, moist and light, sweet but not horribly sickly and some cool clotted cream melting into the salted caramel sauce. As soon as we left I wanted to eat it again, i've been dreaming about it for days. Pudding heaven.

Trio of ice cream, Blackfriars

Sticky toffee pudding, Blackfriars

I rolled home and had a nap after, so full of food there was little chance of anything practical taking place. I'm not sure there's a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon; when the days start getting darker and colder this little corner of history is the perfect lunch time hide away from the city.

Blackfriars is on Friars Street, Newcastle, NE1 4XN. It's open all week for lunch and dinner (lunch only on Sundays) - you can find more details at their website here or call to book on 0191 261 5945

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Urban Night Feast 27th-29th Sept

After I posted about Spring Graze, I got a little kick out of hearing from people who might not have heard about it (looking at you, students) and went along and bought bits and pieces from some of our local talents.

Well, I am even more excited about the upcoming Urban Night Feast and couldn't not tell you all about it. Events like this have been going on for the last couple of years in London and thankfully are gradually making their way further North. UNF is the baby of Maunika Gowardhan, a North-east based private chef and food writer, and if you're ever looking for incredible, authentic Indian recipes you should totally check her website out.

To give you the important details - it's on over the 27th-29th September at The Boiler Shop at The Robert Stephenson Centre and entrance is FREE. And yes, you might be thinking that sounds like a pretty obscure location, but in reality it's just behind the train station (more details here) and it's all the better for being in a little hidden nook of town.

There are 12 confirmed traders currently, lots of familiar local faces - Broad Chare, David Kennedy, Ouseburn Coffee and Wylam Brewery, plus a tasty seafood double hander from Latimer's and Riley's Fish Shack complete with bike BBQ.

But the traders i'm most excited for are from further afield and in particular The Ribman. Christ, I cannot wait to stuff one of his rib rolls into my mouth. A linchpin of the London street food scene, and recent Young British Foodie winner, he sells his ribs on Brick Lane every sunday as well as being part of the Eat St. collective. He arrives at around 2 in the morning to fire up his BBQ so by lunch time there are racks of succulent, juicy, tender rib meat. Oh i'm drooling just thinking about it. He also produces his own chilli sauces - Holy Fuck and Christ on a Bike, as you can guess from the names they are HOT.

I can't see how after hearing that you wouldn't be convinced to go, but there will also be tasty Mexican from El Kantina (think pulled pork sliders), Indian street food from Honk Ok Please, and Catalan cooking from Rachel McCormack.

And students, remember when you reassured your parents you'd eat well during term time - this will definitely be the tastiest way to spend that fresh wad of loan that will just have hit your bank accounts.

If you'd like to find out more, check out the Urban Night Feast website or follow them on twitter at @urbannightfeast