The time has come to update my ‘Where to Eat in Yorkshire’ list (for the original post, see here). I’ve continued to eat my way around this fabulous county and its diverse culinary influences since moving here in 2012, and every now and again stumble upon a gem that simply has to make it onto this blog. Here are a few new recommendations, ranging from a quirky meatball restaurant to a Spanish tapas bar, and including two of my favourite rustic pubs with some of the best gastropub food (and roaring fires!) in the country.Read More
This is one of those times where you throw a few things in the oven, do a very small amount of chopping and arranging, put a pan on briefly and produce a miraculous array of delights that make you wonder why you ever bother slaving away over a hob for hours when you could do this in approximately thirty minutes. I had a few things in the fridge to use up, and I've had a few excellent meals over the last couple of weeks that provided me with a bit of inspiration. I didn't quite envisage the luxuriant feast it would turn into, though. Sat outside on a sunny summer evening with a glass of wine, I can think of few things better.Read More
A couple of weeks ago, I escaped the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden for a brief but deliciously enlightening adventure into Spanish and Mexican cuisine. Condesa is a little wine and tapas bar, tucked away amidst other more imposing pubs and chain restaurants in this ever-heaving district of London. Blink and you'd miss it, so make sure you keep your eyes wide open as you walk past, because it would be a sad thing if you did miss out on the delights Condesa has to offer (not least of which is Daniel, the rather charming owner).
I was expecting a large restaurant, so was surprised to find myself in a small and rustic-looking wine bar. You can perch at the bar on stools and read off the menu and wine list written on a large blackboard across the wall, or sit at small tables dotted along the side of the room. The place definitely has atmosphere for being so small; everyone around us seemed to be having a great time, and there's a really laid-back feel to everything. It's a proper Spanish tapas bar, not an English restaurant attempting to take some of those elements and enlarge and commercialise them. This is evident from the extensive list of wines written on the board, from Argentina, Chile, Spain, Mexico and France; it's obvious that the food and wine are of equal importance at Condesa.
It's a bit of a treat for wine lovers, particularly with Daniel's expert knowledge to recommend wines to match the food. We started with an Amontillado sherry, which with its sweet, honeyed tones was the prefect thing to whet the appetite before the food commenced. We also sampled a range of Mexican wines, which I found very intriguing, having never tasted wine from that part of the world before. A sweet but crisp and refreshing Chenin Blanc, Daniel explained, gains its sweetness from the salty sea breeze that perfumes the grapes, lending them a distinctly honeyed aftertaste.
Condesa offers big, bold, vibrant food, yet also food that demonstrates a huge amount of skill and care in the blending of flavours and textures. The specials board changes every two days, and ingredients are carefully sourced from Mexico, Spain and local suppliers, with emphasis on quality and authenticity. There's a separate lunch and dinner menu, the former featuring bocadillos (home-made sandwiches), with fillings such as pulled pork, chicken chipotle, jamon serrano with olive oil, and goat's cheese with cranberry sauce, all costing around £5-6. The latter showcases a range of Spanish and Mexican classics, such as charcuterie, ceviche, tostadas and quesadillas.
If you're looking for fancy, artistically-presented restaurant food, with foams and garnishes and the like, go somewhere else. This is the kind of food I really love to eat, the kind that makes me fail to see the point in Michelin-starred places: it's hearty, generous, but also perfectly balanced to deliver a really exciting taste experience. There's meat and cheese. Toasted bread. Olives. Chilli. Beautiful fresh fish and seafood. I really cannot think of what more a person could want.
My favourite dish was the pork pibil sliders, beautiful soft buns filled with slow-cooked pork shoulder that had been marinated in anatto seeds, orange, lime and grapefruit, lending the meat an incredibly rich, salty, tangy flavour. It was served with a tomatillo dip, which was an amazing blend of spicy and cooling at the same time - ice cold yet tingly on the tongue, the perfect zingy complement to the rich meat.
Another favourite, and one which I think epitomises the food at Condesa, is the charcuterie board. Daniel explained the provenance and production process of everything on the plate, which featured - among other delicacies - the famous Iberico ham, which was slightly sweet and salty and melt-in-the-mouth rich. My favourite, though, was the mojama - dried tuna, served drizzled with olive oil and almonds. This is like nothing I've ever tasted - it's basically tuna, cured in the same way you would meat. The result is an incredible concentration of its sea-sweet saltiness, perfectly offset by the grassy oil and the toasty almonds.
We also tried a delicious Manchego; Daniel explained that he had sampled a nine-month old cheese, but thought it would be too dry for local taste, so chose a six-month specimen instead. It was perfect, delivering that sweet grainy taste I love so much about manchego. You can't serve manchego without membrillo, quince paste, which was also excellent. We also had two different types of olives - manzanilla, and guirdillo, which were slightly spicy.
The Mexican dishes on the menu were probably the most exciting. A ceviche of tuna, with lime, olive oil and agave, had an incredible soft, melting texture, but still retained that subtle flavour of the sea, lifted by the zing of the citrus, perfectly 'cooked' cubes of delicate tuna keeping their shape and flavour. Served on top of a crisp tostada, which balanced out the sharp citrus with a deep, buttery toastiness, it was utterly gorgeous - the kind of fresh-tasting food I could eat all day.
In the same vein and equally wonderful were the prawn tostadas. On top of corn tostadas (baked not fried), sat a fabulous medley of prawns fried with onions, leeks, red cabbage. The prawns were beautifully fresh and sweet, almost buttery in flavour, with a lip-tingling hint of spice. What really made the dish was the habañero mayonnaise, which lent a delicious creamy texture and spice to the whole thing. What I especially loved, though, was that the sweet prawns weren't overpowered by this assertive layering of flavours.
In a similar category to the pork sliders - that of sheer, unadulterated, carnivorous joy - are the braised pigs' cheeks. It's no secret that I love pigs' cheeks, economical morsels of meat that braise down into succulent melting goodness. These were cooked in a mixture of PX sherry, bay leaf, leek, onion, carrot, and served on roast potatoes. I have to say that after the other vibrant, zingy flavours we'd eaten, I found these a little bit on the bland side, but I think that may have been simply because everything else was just so zingy, spicy and delicious. A plate of these on their own would, I'm sure, satisfy any ardent meat cravings. The cheeks were deliciously tender and the sauce rich, thick and meaty.
The ultimate in crowd-pleasing dishes, though, is the corn truffle quesadilla. Both this and the pigs' cheeks were originally on the specials menu, Daniel told us, but they proved so popular that he's decided to put them permanently on the menu. You can't really go wrong with crisp, toasted tortillas sandwiched around melting cheese and earthy, salty, rich corn truffle (a fungus which grows naturally on ears of corn and has a similar deep flavour to Italian truffles). The combination of textures is so satisfying, as is the gooey richness of the melting cheese and deeply savoury truffle within. This is proper comfort food, at a different end of the scale to the vibrant ceviche and tostadas - I would recommend having all of them, to experience the delightful differences in flavour and texture.
To finish, we devoured a plate of exceptional cheeses: Manchego, Valdeon (a Spanish blue cheese from Leon), and Murcia al vino (a goat's milk cheese, the rind of which is washed with red wine during maturation). The Murcia was soft and creamy with that unmistakeable goat milk tang; the Valdeon also deliciously creamy with an assertive blue cheese sharpness. These came with membrillo and fig jam, the latter absolutely wonderful with the Valdeon. To wash all this down, a glass of Crema sherry, which is aged for longer than the other sherries on the menu and as a result is darker and sweeter; it's a great match for the tangy cheese.
The eating experience at Condesa is just as a tapas bar should be - portions are small enough to order a few and make for satisfying sharing, but large enough that you don't feel cheated and have to order out of your price range in order to fill up. The prices are reasonable, too - charcuterie plates range from £5-11, meat dishes around £5-6, fish dishes between £8-11, while salads are around £4-6.
Condesa was genuinely one of the best restaurant experiences I've had in a while. I loved the informality of the place, the friendliness of the staff, the buzzing atmosphere, the delicious wines. Most of all, of course, I loved the vibrant food, which I found truly exciting, a really refreshing change from the standard things you find in restaurants all the time now. I would urge anyone feeling slightly jaded by the generic restaurant scene to go along and let Daniel surprise them with his fabulous and expertly-judged food and wine; I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
(Also, apologies for the slightly dodgy photos - my camera is useless in dim lighting so I had to use my iPhone, which isn't much better...)
Nutmegs, seven dined as a guest of Condesa. Many thanks to Lucy for arranging the evening and to Daniel and his staff for being such excellent hosts.
I returned to my house in York last week, after a rather longer Christmas break than I had anticipated, to find myself greeted with the kind of scene I imagine the most inconsiderate burglars leave behind. The saving grace, however, being that nothing was actually stolen. No, this was just the inevitable consequence of having a kitchen about 30% of the way through a glamorous makeover: a thick layer of dust adorning surfaces like snow, a lone fridge standing forlornly in the middle of the floor with a ghostly sheet draped over it, small nuggets of plaster and brick scattered like charming confetti o'er the sink and floor. Barely a trace remaining of the cosy place I had tried to make it when I moved in.
A week later, and while there are huge bare patches of brick and plaster all over the walls, the rafters in the roof are ominously exposed over one's head and the cupboards are bare unpainted board with no doors or shelves, it's looking a bit better. There is, at least, a shiny new induction hob and brand new oven. There is also a nice new sink, and worktop, replacing the inexplicable wood surrounding the old sink, which had developed a delightful plague of mould and was probably the cause of me getting ill when I first moved in.
(Yeah, that's right, it was the mouldy sink...not a stint of going to bed at 3am every night for about a fortnight, going out in the freezing rain on Halloween wearing nothing but a leotard, and living off leftover tarte tatin for every meal because I couldn't be bothered to cook. That had nothing to do with it, I am sure.)
Anyway, while it's looking decidedly less burgled, the kitchen is still a bit of a way off its completion. The one thing I find most difficult is the lack of worktop space, as the worktop half of the room has yet to be built. This means my chopping and stirring needs are met by a tiny square foot of worktop just next to the hob. There's no possibility of doing any fancy cooking involving more than a couple of pans and bowls, or any great amount of chopping. Certainly the KitchenAid mixer or blender will not be making an outing for a while.
It was great timing, then, for Thomson Al Fresco to get in touch and ask me to suggest a few healthy recipe ideas that can be cooked while camping. Although my lovely induction hob is hardly a campfire, and my house is a bit better than a tent, I am certainly in need of easy recipes that require very little surface space and can be easily cooked in one pan. While I imagine many people stick to pasta and jarred sauce, or endless barbecues, while camping (I wouldn't really know; I've only been twice, both times in England, and one involved inadvertently pitching our tent over an earwig nest, so they're memories I'd like to rid myself of), it's not actually that difficult to come up with a one-pan meal that is fairly good for you. Pulses are the key: filling, nutritious, and all you have to do is open a can.
Given that Thomson Al Fresco offer lots of camping holidays on the continent, I thought I'd give these recipes a European theme, adapting them to the local produce of the country you might happen to be camping in. This one is based around Spanish ingredients: chorizo, tomatoes, peppers, and chickpeas. It only needs one pan and one chopping board (you're chopping raw chorizo on it first, but everything you chop on it afterwards gets cooked, so you won't get any horrible diseases - just don't forget and nibble bits of the peppers while you chop them with the chorizo-y knife, as I nearly did).
The result of this colourful medley is a delicious thick stew, deeply flavoured from the paprika in the chorizo and the tomatoes, which collapse into a lovely sauce. There are tender sweet peppers and onions, comforting chickpeas and some crunchy greens, to make the whole thing that little bit healthier. It's about as healthy as you can get, in terms of hearty one-pot meals: tomatoes, peppers and onions are all very good for you, as are chickpeas, which bulk up the dish and fill you up in a much healthier way than pasta or rice. The meat here is used as a seasoning, rather than a main ingredient.
The beauty of this recipe is that it's very adaptable. You could use the cooked chorizo that comes in a ring if you can't find the raw stuff (which has the bonus of meaning you can then nibble those peppers as you chop. I assume everyone does this - it's not just me that loves to eat raw peppers while cooking, is it?). You could use tinned tomatoes instead of fresh. You could change the herbs depending on what you have, or omit them altogether. You could use any kind of tinned beans or even lentils instead of the chickpeas, and most greens instead of spring greens - spinach and kale work well. Think of this as a blueprint. What is essential, though, is that you serve it with lots of crusty bread to mop up the thick, smokey tomato sauce.
Although I rather like the romantic notion of tucking into a steaming bowl of this round a campfire under the setting Spanish sun, I think I'll stick with eating it in my ramshackle kitchen. The main reason being that I know it's earwig-free.
Tomato, red pepper, chickpea and chorizo stew (serves 4):
- 200g cooking chorizo, thickly sliced
- 1 tbsp olive oil (or just cook the veg in the oil released by the chorizo, if you don't have any oil)
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 4 red peppers, deseeded and cut into strips
- 2 bay leaves (optional)
- 600g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 100ml water
- 1 tbsp tomato purée (optional)
- 1 tsp dried mixed herbs (sage, thyme and oregano work well)
- 2 x 400g cans chickpeas
- 300g spring greens or cabbage, thinly sliced
- Crusty bread, to serve
Heat a large casserole dish or saucepan over a medium heat, then add the chorizo. It should start to sizzle and crisp up, releasing orange oil. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the olive oil, red onion, peppers and bay leaves. Cook for 5-10 minutes on a fairly high heat, until the onions and peppers have softened.
Add the cherry tomatoes, water, tomato purée and herbs. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes have collapsed into a thick sauce. Add the chickpeas and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the spring greens or cabbage. Cook for a couple of minutes to wilt the greens.
Serve with crusty bread.
One thing especially impressed itself upon my mind during this, my second day of eating gluten-free (for day one and the reason behind this gluten-free challenge, click here). That is:how incredibly hard it is to find food on the go that doesn't contain gluten. It seems that the pesky thing lurks everywhere, in the most unexpected and surprising places. Nor is its presence particularly well-labelled. To be on a truly gluten-free diet is exhausting, especially when it comes to grabbing a 'quick' lunch from a supermarket; it requires the constant checking of labels and analysing of ingredients, plus the inevitable and tragic disappointment of finding that basically everything you want to eat is cruelly denied you.
For breakfast today, I had a bowl of gluten-free porridge with some rhubarb compote and fresh blackberries. It was delicious; I love the combination of comforting, creamy porridge laced with the potent tang of stewed rhubarb, and the juicy burst of sweet blackberries.
I didn't have much time between doing various errands and starting work in the early afternoon. I definitely didn't have time to make something gluten-free for lunch, mainly because I wanted something a bit healthier than a gluten-free bread roll filled with whatever was in the fridge, which consisted of mostly cheese. So, naturally, I went to M&S on the way to work, my destination of choice for packaged salads, sandwiches and the like because they generally seem much more inviting than cheap and horrible Tesco varieties. Yeah, that's my excuse. Actually it's just because I'm painfully middle class, and never more so than when it comes to food.
My gaze hovered over all the attractive options, and I came pretty close to picking a few up before I realised: couscous, bulgur wheat, pasta salads were all out of the equation. Never mind, I thought, there are a couple of nice-looking quinoa salads, and I know quinoa is gluten-free. One check of the label, however, boldly informed me 'Contains: Wheat, Gluten'. Where this could possibly be in a salad of quinoa, feta and vegetables, I'm not quite sure.
I went for sushi, one of my favourites. The components of sushi are normally pretty basic: rice, sugar, salt, vinegar, fish. So how on earth could the label tell me that there was gluten involved? I assume because of the soy sauce; perhaps you didn't know this, but soy sauce contains wheat.
I was even more shocked, though, when I picked up a salad of edamame beans and sugar snap peas to discover that it contained gluten. Where was the gluten hiding?! Seriously? It was just vegetables! I can only assume that the little pot of dressing provided contained soy sauce or something, but I didn't want to eat a pot of vegetables without anything to season them. The same went for various other salads: mixed bean, Greek...all of them innocently concealing gluten.
I genuinely found this quite surprising, and it also gave me a great deal of sympathy for coeliacs and those wildly allergic to wheat or gluten. There was nothing on the M&S shelf proclaiming itself to be gluten-free; I imagine for such sufferers, finding lunch on the go is a tiresome and frequently fruitless guessing game.
Fortunately - and this was a real stroke of luck - it happened that my favourite M&S salad, one I discovered recently and can't get enough of - didn't contain gluten.
It's a salad of wild rice, lentils, aubergine, peppers and celery with a garlicky dressing. Doesn't sound that great, and definitely doesn't look particularly appetising, being mostly beige and slimy-looking, but it tastes fantastic - sharp and garlicky, creamy from the roasted aubergine and nutty from the lentils and rice. It probably made my day discovering that I was allowed to eat this. I sat outside in the sun and devoured it with a plastic spoon, then had a delicious ripe white nectarine afterwards.
Ripe nectarines are a rare thing, to be treasured when one can get their hands upon them.
The M&S salad was not very filling, however. Especially not when one has been undertaking the tiring job of teaching fourteen rowdy 16-18 year olds for the afternoon. I had a banana and a medjool date (the fattest, stickiest, most toffee-like dates you'll ever eat, which is why I only had one - they're very satisfying) with a cup of tea (these dates have to be consumed with a hot beverage, to melt the sugar off your teeth!), before I went for a pretty gruelling run in the sweltering heat.
Can I tell you a secret? It wasn't as good as the run I went for two weeks ago, which was fuelled by a substantial afternoon tea featuring scones, jam, clotted cream and a huge amount of caffeinated tea. In that respect, I don't think the gluten-free diet has given me a manic burst of energy all of a sudden, but the kind of energy one gets from floury scones is probably the bad kind that will give you a huge sugar low an hour or so later...I was just clever enough to go for a run before that low hit, while I was still high as a kite. I imagine the gluten-free kind of energy is more sustainable and keeps you going for a longer period of time. I still ran seven kilometres, so am not doing too badly without any gluten to sustain me.
Dinner this evening is an example of how - fortunately - some of the most delicious meals are naturally gluten-free. Instead of viewing a gluten-free diet as all about everything you can't have, it seems logical to me to embrace it, to find new and more exciting ways of filling yourself up than by simply gorging a vat of bread or pasta. To me, it seems about much more than simply swapping your bread or pasta for a gluten-free variety, which is a perfectly viable option but seems somewhat lazy and unimaginative.
Instead, I'm thinking about meals that are delicious, and coincidentally naturally lacking in any form of wheat whatsoever. These are the ones I'll be sharing over the next few days. You'll be amazed at how tasty some dishes are, despite the lack of a gluten factor. I tried a recipe from Diana Henry's Food From Plenty, for sea bream cooked Spanish-style. It's one that I've always skipped over before because it just looked too simple. I tend to shy away from simple recipes, favouring more unusual flavour combinations and ingredients. I'm now going to have to rethink my entire philosophy, because this was fantastic.
Sea beam, gutted and scaled (they were on offer in Tesco), baked in the oven under a thick blanket of breadcrumbs, smoked paprika, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and parsley. The olive oil and the paprika mingle to form a pungent, aromatic, shockingly scarlet oil that permeates and infuses the fish with its deliciously rich, smoky flavour - think chorizo but without the meat. The lemon juice adds tang, the garlic depth, while the breadcrumbs turn crispy in places and soggy in others, saturated with oily, smoky juices. The fish flesh remains deliciously moist, its creamy texture the perfect balance to the assertive bread topping.
I used gluten-free bread to make the crumbs, naturally. To be honest, I think that was all it was good for - the loaf had the texture of dry sponge. However, I did receive it in the post on Thursday, so it is probably just old, a result of my neglect. It would have been fine toasted, though, and I'm sure gluten-free loaves are much nicer when fresh.
I served this fish with boiled potatoes (yay for gluten-free carbs) and a lovely little salad of chargrilled courgettes, broad beans, green beans and basil, dressed with garlic olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. It was the perfect green and crunchy partner to soak up all the delicious sweet and smoky juices from the fish. Such a simple meal, but one that is much more than the sum of its parts, and is a perfect recipe for a balmy summer evening.
It's now late, and I'm probably heading to bed soon. I feel pretty good - nicely exhausted from running, and wonderfully nourished from my lovely vegetable-heavy dinner. Much better than if I'd eaten a giant bowl of pasta or similar, I'm sure.
Spanish-style sea bream (serves 4):
(Barely adapted from 'Food From Plenty', by Diana Henry)
- 4 sea bream, gutted and scaled
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 50g breadcrumbs (gluten-free if necessary)
- 5 tsp smoked paprika
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 lemon
- 4 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Pre-heat the oven to 190C. Lightly oil a baking dish. Rub olive oil over the fish, inside and out, then season well. Lay in a single layer on the oven dish. Drizzle with olive oil and squeeze over half the lemon.
Mix together the breadcrumbs, garlic and paprika, and season well. Spoon this over the top of the fish, then squeeze over the remaining lemon and drizzle over some more olive oil.
Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then sprinkle over the parsley. Bake for another 5 minutes, or until the fish is opaque and flakes easily away from the bone at its thickest part.
Serve with a salad (perhaps some green and broad beans) and some boiled new potatoes.