Sunday, 30 August 2009

a rather splendid afternoon tea with Bella and Crumb

So-called 'underground'/'pop-up' restaurants are taking over London at the moment, but during the summer there's been a small and welcome twist on the theme - afternoon tea. To my knowledge (please correct me if I'm wrong, someone), the first was the Hidden Tea Room, but a more recent addition to the scene popped up for the first time in August - provided by the wonderfully-named Bella and Crumb.

Since the pair responsible for this latest foodie venture have more than a passing connection with Rococo chocolates, it was perhaps no surprise that the chosen venue was the gorgeous 'Marococo' garden at the Motcomb Street branch.

And since the menu was as tempting as it was long, it perhaps comes as no less surprise that I had to get myself along there. Oh, and also because it was for a good cause. All money raised goes to the BeatBullying charity. An admirable scheme. And so, with three other friends, I booked in to the first available date, on 13 August.

And at 2.30 on the dot, there we were. In the glorious garden. Which itself was the most amazing suntrap on what was already proving to be a rather lovely summer's day.

Marococo garden, Bella and Crumb

a north African oasis in the middle of London

A truly splendid setting. Made immediately all the more splendid by the addition of some rather good Prosecco.

prosecco, Bella and Crumb

if I said I only had one glass, would you believe me? No, I thought not.

Oh, and tea. Not just yer standard pot to be getting on with, but a list of 5 loose leaf teas and endless tea bags (particularly if you like fruit and herb teas) from which to choose. After some serious debate, we opted for Fortnum & Mason's Royal Blend and Darjeeling Broken Orange Pekoe, and very fine they were, too.

And then - to business. First up, leek and gruyere tart, finger sandwiches, cheesy feet biscuits with throat-tickling spiced tomato jam.

cheesy feet etc, at Bella and Crumb

hot damn hot jam. And cheesy feet. Not traditional, but we don't care

Sticklers for tradition might well take umbrage at the cheesy feet and spiced tomato jam - hardly your standard afternoon tea fare. But to get uppity about such things and refuse to partake would be to miss a trick. Let me tell you - they were VERY good, especially that jam, which had several tea-goers begging Bella and Crumb for the recipe. So - ner to all the nay-sayers, and good on Bella and Crumb for going a bit left field. 'Twas a bold move which more than paid off.

But really, when you have an afternoon tea, it's all about the scones, isn't it? So, as tasty as our little amuse-foots were, we were eager for our next 'course' listed on the menu - 'fresh scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam'. Clotted cream. Be still, oh my beating heart.

Or rather - bring it on...

Loading up... (cream on jam? or jam on cream? we spent quite a while discussing the issue. Inbetween mouthfuls of the stuff, naturally.)

scones, Bella and Crumb

cream on jam, or jam on cream? You decide. Amazing how heated the arguments became. Or would have, had we really been that bothered. Which we weren't because we were all too busy scarfing the lot.

scones 2, Bella and Crumb

Whatever the technically or historically correct cream/jam order, let it be said that the scones, cream and jam were superb. Fresh from the oven, the scones were light, tasty, and wholly moreish. The clotted cream was all that. And there was plentiful, quality jam.

Of course we had seconds. It would have been tremendously rude not to.

By now, it should be said, we were approaching satiation levels. And our arteries were no doubt approaching saturation levels.

But Bella and Crumb hadn't finished with us yet. Oh, no. If you're going to do tea here, you're here to do it hardcore.

And so you have to have cakes next. Cakes, and brownies, and biscuits, and sweets, and chocolates, no less.

cakes, Bella and Crumb

Crikey me, as Sarah Beeny would say. Crikey me, indeed.

We gave it our best shot. We demolished the cupcakes (lemon with raspberries; vanilla), attacked the brownies, wolfed the chocolates (Rococo's own rose, lychee, and raspberry ganache), and... then somewhat gave up. As lovely as the personalised biscuits looked, and as comically redolent of sweet-stuffing childhood days as the lovehearts were, we really just could not cope with any more.

All that was left was to quench our sugar-induced thirsts with more tea and zingy homemade lemonade...

traditional lemonade, Bella and Crumb

... and to sit and wait a while until we felt like we could actually move again. Which probably took another hour.

And the cost of all this - this sun-filled, food-stuffed, vintage-crockery adorned, tea-fuelled afternoon of gastronomic jollity? A mere £15.00 a head. And all for charity, remember.

In short - it's for a great cause, is in a beautiful location, provides all the food and drink you'll ever manage for a tea time, and is all laid on by two very generous hostesses who do a very good job of spotting empty Prosecco glasses at twenty paces. And there are more dates coming up soon: check here for details.

Go, or miss a real treat and a rather fun afternoon out.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

the simplest summer supper - squid and samphire. And a warning about Twitter.

First, a word of apology. I should have blogged about this a couple of weeks ago when samphire was still available. It might still be available now, if you're very lucky (I got mine from Moxon's in Clapham), but the chances are that it will be a bit woody, which takes the edge off the pleasure of eating it a little. But only a very little.

But I didn't blog about it then because, as some of you will know, I've been acutely afflicted by a shocking I.T. disease called Twitter.

You want to watch out for it. You can try, as I did, to resist it for as long as possible. But from the moment you succumb, your life might never be the same again. Be warned. Be prepared for a period of adjustment. During that time, my top tips are: remember to breathe, eat, and sleep. Be prepared for strange looks from your friends, family, and partner/hanger-on/one-night stand. Also be prepared to respond to the question: 'Why are you writing to someone called hollowlegs?' I can tell you now - any answer you come up with will sound hopelessly dodgy.

So briefly and finally - but hopefully better late than never - a word about samphire and squid.

It's quite simple. Samphire rocks. It is one of the most lush foodie expressions of summer. Green, succulent, salty, and with a whiff of the sea about it, it's the perfect answer to a hot day. If you haven't tried it, put it on your list of things to do next summer. To cook it: steam it for 2 or 3 minutes, then serve with a generous shake of pepper and a generous knob of butter. That's really all there is to it.

And squid is hardly any more effort. Personally, I like to marinade it (it = opened out tubes + tentacles) for a few minutes in some olive oil, chilli, basil, garlic and a little lemon or lime juice. And then just throw it on the grill or into a hot pan. Cook for no more than a couple of minutes each side, and preferably less - you don't want it to go rubbery.

Wash down with a bottle of a super-chilled Pinot Grigio. There are few meals simpler, tastier, or more summery.

squid and samphire - before

This is, of course, the 'before' photo. By the time I'd cooked the stuff, daylight had vanished under a storm cloud, and the 'after' photo suffered somewhat from being taken under artificial light. Trust me, it looked mighty fine to the naked eye, but rather off-puttingly lurid in the photo. Since I want to encourage rather than deter you, I've therefore left the 'after' version to your imagination. The important thing to remember is that it tastes completely fab.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

an identity crisis... help!

A couple of months ago I bought 2 little chilli plants from a new local market stall run by start-up company, Inner Green. Their stall looked cool, and the guys who ran it were friendly and engaging, so - like the sucker I am - I picked out the plants and bought them on the spot. I was told they 'should be producing by around mid-July'.


And with the labels in the pots each declaring 'hot red conical chillis', that's exactly what I was looking forward to.Mid-July came around. We had signs of a chilli, but it was green.

No matter, thought the optimist in me. A bit of sun, continuing TLC, and we can look forward to hot days and chilli nights.

Except that now, heading into the second week of August, this is what we've got:

Now, this chilli may be many things, but red and conical it ain't.

So we have a little identity crisis on our hands. Can you solve the mystery?*

*I know you don't have much to go on, but the plant itself is about 8 inches high, and the chilli itself, about an inch or so in all dimensions. Since I have no idea at all, you are bound to have a better guess than me. All suggestions gratefully received. Who knows, I may even send you the chilli itself as a prize.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

online food hygiene course, anyone?

Something I've been thinking about doing in preparation for starting a small food business. (No, I'm not committing myself, but watch this space. Weirder things have happened.)

For those who don't like turning up to classes, this one might do the trick - click here for details. (Safe link, BTW - no funny stuff.)

Right, that's the end of my public service announcement for now.

Back to the kitchen, everyone...

Sunday, 2 August 2009

more signs of summer...

The first blueberries from the garden! Yay!
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