I turned 32 yesterday. It just sort of snuck up on me. I think with every year I’m more and more resigned to the fact that age cannot be controlled and no matter what I will begin to sag and wrinkle and that is okay, really. And, you know, being “in your thirties” means that you start to do more grown up things. Things you always thought in your 20s sounded a bit lame and boring, but now you enjoy because it means it doesn’t involve queues to get in to late bars with horrendously loud music and subsequently being on the receiving end of an equally horrendous hangover the next day. (Please note, I know how old that makes me sound. I am aware.)
So in this civilised vein of adulthood, my other half took me to dinner at St John in Farringdon to celebrate being “in my thirties”. I have never been to St John, despite lusting after it and its sister restaurant on Commercial Street, St John Bread and Wine, for several years. For me, it is one of those places which the gastroworld always seems to return to; a beacon of solidarity against new faddish restaurants which come and go as quickly as they start. So, now, 10 years of lusting later, I am sat in the dining room and perusing the menu with maybe a little too much excitement for someone my age.
With its reputation for nose to tail eating, I really want to go for the offal because I pride myself on being adventurous and completely unfunny about less-than-popular foods, but I seem to be unable to get over the idea of eating brains or intestines. I think it is partly because I have never made them myself so I cannot really visualise the process. So, I settle for the Roasted Bone Marrow to start. My boyfriend, who is feeling far more adventurous than I, goes for the Chitterlings and Dandelion.
The bone marrow was phenomenal. Served with toast, grey salt, and parsley, the flavours sang together in unctuous harmony. The amount of marrow perfectly matched the amount of bread served, unlike an unfortunate pâté order, when you are left looking for something to accompany the remaining slab on your plate after your single slice of toast has been exhausted. This attention to detail was really appreciated. Chitterlings, despite sounding a bit twee and like something out of a Disney cartoon, are, for those of us who are unsure, pig intestines and in fact were delightful. Served with chopped up dandelion and cornichons, they were lovely and piggy, slightly sweet and very tender.
For mains, I went for Smoked Haddock, Saffron and Parsnips, and Boyf went for one of the specials, Blood Cake, with a side of Greens. I had heard good things about the Blood Cake, but still, despite the amazingness of the Chitterlings, I couldn’t commit to something so off piste! Even so, the haddock was firm, not hard or dry, and perfectly cooked. It came with a buttery saffron sauce, which heightened the taste, albeit made it a tad on the salty side. The parsnips were a salve for the salt, and amalgamated the flavours in a wonderful balance of savoury, sweet, and buttery goodness. Delightful, but a conservative choice.
The Blood Cake was like black pudding with an Ivy League education. Bigger, richer, more refined. Served with two fried eggs on top, in a manner similar to the parsnips, these eggs tempered the flavour, giving it a deeper, smoother and more rounded taste. I had never experienced anything quite like it. The Greens were cooked well, but incredibly salty, and with my haddock already being on the top end of the salt spectrum, it was a bit much as an accompanying side.
And finally, we moved on to the puddings. Again, I am now kicking myself with my pansy ordering. I ended with chocolate mousse and a single of Auchentoshan with some ice. A safe bet. An easy bet. But dammit! It was nothing compared to Boyf’s Apple Sorbet and Polish Vodka. This, people, could easily have been the most amazing thing I have ever tasted. The sorbet was clean, fresh, light, smooth, and then, with a little sip of the vodka whilst the sorbet taste was still in my mouth, the flavours turned to perfume and my whole nose and mouth became an explosion of flowers and fruit. Wonderful.
I wish that I had been a bit more brave at St John. My meal was wonderful, but I wish that I had really grown a pair of balls and gone for what they do best at St John: blood and guts. Perhaps now that I’m a little older, and a little wiser, the next time I go, the calves brains and lamb sweetbreads will seem a little less daunting and I will jump on the nose to tail bandwagon a little more readily than I did last night. Until then, black pudding anyone?
Three course meal for two including wine, not including service, £112.90.
The lovely ladies at the Keston Kitchen and I will be throwing another supper club! If you’re interested in attending, please click through to Guerilla Dining for more details.
I didn’t want to write a proper article on food today, I’m at work and on a lunch break, but I feel that I should let everyone know about the incredible discovery made this weekend in the realm of potato salad. I know, bear with me, I can tell you’re ridiculously excited.
See, the boyf and I had a lovely visit to the Brixton Farmers Market yesterday; its very exciting at this time of year (despite it being stupid cold for April). New things are coming into season, and the wintery root vegetables are slowly losing out to radishes, celery, fresh herbs etc. Its still a bit early for the really fun stuff of May-July, but its getting better every week.
Including the other veg that we bought, some spring onions, watercress and knobbly potatoes made it into our shopping bag, and an idea for this potato salad began to take shape. We bought chorizo.
Why potato salad? Well, we were attempting to have a picnic with some friends, yes, even in 10C/50F weather, because it was semi-warm when the sun did make an appearance and its what the British do, damn it. Keep Calm and Carry On, despite the weather.
Anyway, the salad was a winner, even eaten with gloves on, and here’s how to make it.
Boil a punnet of potatoes and let them cool, add three spring onions, chopped, leave the woody bits of the watercress out but add a half handful of plucked leaves, add some nice salt and pepper, and about two handfuls chopped up chorizo. Add a big dollop of crème fraîche. Stir. Enjoy copiously.
Nonna loved lemons. Literally, anything to do with them, the flavour, the smell, everything. What memories could have been associated with them for her? I always wondered. Why did she love them so much? Growing up the youngest of 5 children, a daughter of Italian immigrants, there must have been something at her core which made her heart leap at the sight of those little yellow spheres. I like to think it was memories of her childhood, growing up in Southern California, where lemon and orange trees are part of the natural landscape and where bright sunshine is expected on a daily basis, not a welcome surprise.
My grandmother and I always had an affinity with each other. Both youngest children, both contrary by nature and generally quite feisty, we spent summers together at my grandparents’ home in the Valley. I played cards, cooked (when she’d let me help) and ate, and generally tried to stay out of the way when she and my mother came to verbal fisticuffs. Since her death a few years ago, I have been receiving items from my aunt which belonged to Nonna: a dress she made in 1945, little leather cowboy boots which were my mother’s when she was three years old, and an oil painting of a fat nude woman reclining (which now hangs in my dining room – it looks nicer than it sounds). But of all of these trinkets, worthless to anyone but me, her recipe for lemon curd is my most treasured. A simple newspaper cut-out, stained over the years by her continual return to it as a staple of her culinary repertoire. And, because the recipe requires one egg and two yolks, the remaining egg whites pointed to the obvious solution as to what to make with the curd: her most favourite dessert, lemon meringue pie.
I was 10 the first time I made it with her. I don’t remember a huge amount of the experience, except that it was probably more stressful for her than it was for me. Whilst separating the eggs, I set an eggshell in the bowl and she nearly had a heart attack. I can now see why. It is crucial to point out here that I don’t even like this kind of pie. I dragged my feet when I made it with her 22 years ago and I sort of felt a bit draggy about it today. I didn’t see what the point of it was then, or now for that matter. But this little recipe has been sitting around my flat for 2 weeks now; I had to give it a go. There had to be something about it that she kept coming back to…
…And even with my culinary prowess of which normally I’m quite proud, a first attempt at this pie is not amazing. Don’t get me wrong, it looks beautiful on the top and I’m exceptionally proud of the base (shortbread), but the curd seems too runny and sharp. How can this be? I followed the recipe to a tee, what is the trick that I don’t know about? Did I miss something? Should I cut back on the juice despite what it says? The recipe seems a bit simplistic to me but that cannot be it, otherwise she would have left notes on it, of that I am sure. But there is nothing there except the newsprint and unidentifiable brown stains.
It can only be in her touch. It is said that food made with love tastes the best and perhaps it was her way of showing love. I joke that my family are a bit unsure over whether it was because she loved us she wanted to feed us, or rather that she loved food so much that she couldn’t bear to see it loved unequally by those she was feeding, so she continued to pile up our plates. But it cannot be denied that a memory of an event can outweigh the reality. I remember our joint-effort pie as a success but I don’t remember how it tasted. In a world where recipes are ubiquitous, this recipe, with its history, remains a treasured one which I shall make to remember, and maybe one day I will learn to love.
Post script: Upon allowing the pie to cool further (when I tried it, it was marginally warm), the sharpness settles and the curd in fact becomes less runny. Nonna would have been pleased to learn that the pie turned out to be, for those who tried it later, “bloody lovely”. I can see why she returned to it again and again, but I will stick with being contrary, and prefer the recipe in memory rather than action…