Archive | January, 2012

Taking everything with a pinch of Salt

22 Jan

Through my degree in Spanish and subsequent work on the Wines from Rioja account (for proof, check out this geeky photo of me jumping, second in from the right), I think it would be fair to say that I am an ardent fan of tapas. Since moving to London a year and a half ago, I have made it my mission to sample some of the capital’s top tapas bars, which so far have included Brindisa, Barrica and Opera Tavern. So, with my dad in town last week, we decided to give Salt Yard, the sister restaurant of Opera Tavern and Dehesa, a go and once again I wasn’t disappointed.

What I love about tapas is the flexibility that they offer – whether you’re simply after a glass of sherry and a handful of olives or would prefer to get settled for the night with a bottle of tempranillo and a never-ending stream of little plates, tapas offer something for everybody.

Feeling experimental, Dad decided he wanted to order a selection of bar snacks to get us started, without knowing what their English translations were so, despite several warnings from me, we ended up with anchovies (boquerones), caperberries, extremely spicy guindilla peppers and smoked almonds – three of which we didn’t like (yes, I know, after living in a remote Spanish town for a year, I really should be fully acquainted with this kind of cuisine, but I’m sorry Spain, I JUST DON’T LIKE ANCHOVIES).

After this, I was therefore granted the task of ordering the mains so here are my choices:

  • Confit of Gloucester Old Spot pork belly with rosemary scented cannellini beans
  • Roasted chorizo with apple and moscatel
  • Chargrilled chicken, aubergine caponata, capers and olives
  • Venison carpaccio, lardo, dandelion, marcona almonds and qunice vinaigrette
  • Grilled underblade fillet of beef, prunes, panchetta and Pedro Ximinez
  • Jamon croquetas with manchego cheese
  • Classic tortilla

The food was so bloody tasty that I’m afraid I forgot to take pictures, so the following pics are the only ones I got (only just remembered with the chorizo, oops!):

With an exclusively Spanish and Italian wine list, designed to ‘showcase the delicious indigenous grapes of these countries’, I was intrigued to try one of these indigenous grapes. As such, we chose a bottle of the Albariño San Campio Terras Gauda which came in a lovely bottle:

The albariño grape comes from Rias Baixas in Galicia and this particular example displayed a distinctive perfumed aroma of apricots and white peaches. Light, dry and intensely fruity, it probably wasn’t the best match to our rich, meaty tapas. but on its own was a delight to drink.

Feeling rather stuffed from the mains, we instinctively told the waitress that we had absolutely no room left for dessert, which of course led to us ordering a pudding and, in my dad’s case, two. In the littlemissvino family household, the sign of a good restaurant menu is the ratio of chocolate to non-chocolate based desserts on the menu and on this test, Salt Yard scored a gold star. Out of five possible options, three featured chocolate so I went for the churros with Valrhona chocolate sauce, and Dad went for the hot chocolate ganacha with Turron ice cream, plus the churros. Although he claimed this second set of churros was for ‘sharing’, they most certainly were not as they were just too damn tasty to give away:

With two satisfied tummies, we left Salt Yard vowing to come back, although not before trying Dehesa, Copita, Cigala, El Pirata, Barrafina and Fino……

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Feliz Navidad!

10 Jan

Let’s play a word association game – what’s the first thing you think of when you hear the words ‘Christmas dinner party’? Crackers? Turkey? Mince pies and mulled wine? How about Mexican fiesta? No? Hmmmm – I can’t possibly think why not.

Every year when I go back home for Christmas, I get together with my school friends for a good ol’ catch-up and an obligatory festive feed. Last year was a 80s inspired ‘Jacob’s Joint’ where we enjoyed the delights of sausage rolls, hot dogs, mini burgers and Quality Street so this year, after the excesses of Christmas day, I decided to host a Mexican-themed party to remind us that summer is on its way (well, it’s nearer than it was before Christmas at least).

Not being one for fancy five course meal dinner parties, I decided to keep things simple with a one-pot wonder of chili con carne, with homemade salsa, guacamole and pineapple carpaccio to finish. To ‘Mexicanify’ the table, I dug out a selection of mismatched colourful plates, bowls, napkins and candles as well as a couple of flower garlands from my university dressing-up box (yes, that’s right, I have a university dressing-up box, doesn’t everybody?):

One of my Christmas presents to my boyfriend was ‘Mexican Food Made Easy’ by Wahaca founder Thomasina Miers, however since it was still wrapped under the tree, I didn’t want to undo all my good work and unwrap then re-wrap the book just to find out Thomasina’s recipe for chili con carne. I therefore reverted to my tried and tested recipe of bunging it all in a pot and leaving it for several hours and hoping for the best (which worked).

For the salsa and guacamole, I was left with the same predicament so I turned to Emma Forbes’  (yes she of Live and Kicking fame – god I loved that programme) new  recipe book ‘Life and Soul’.

The general recipes were as follows:

Salsa – mix together 200g of vine tomatoes with lime juice, a little brown sugar, coriander, parsley, one red chili de-seeded and olive oil

Guacamole – scoop out and mash three ripe avocados then mix with one red pepper finely chopped, lemon juice, one red chili de-seeded, coriander salt and pepper

Easy peasy!

In order to complement this cacophony of flavours, I made a non-alcoholic cocktail ‘stolen’ from the Wahaca menu of sparkling water, fresh mint and lime (they call it a Citrus Fizz). However, no dinner party would be complete without a beverage or two so, upon their arrival, my guests were greeted with a celebratory glass of La Marca Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco from Majestic which I can only describe as truly scrumptious. With juicy notes of apples and pineapples, this sparkling wine was the perfect way to get the party started, whilst being light enough to cope with after several days of heavy eating.

The dessert of pineapple carpaccio was inspired by a trip to The Rainforest Cafe at Disneyland Paris many years ago, although unfortunately my version didn’t turn out quite as planned. Of all the courses to bugger up, who’d have thought it would be this one, but with a couple of enthusiastic squeezes of lime too many, the pineapple needed a shed-load of ice cream on it to make it edible – whoops. If all else failed though, it certainly looked pretty on its plate (the brown and green bits are sugar and mint):

Luckily, my friend had baked cupcakes as a present so we ate these instead – much more satisfying:

Finally, the meal was brought to a close with coffee and Roses chocolates – that well known Mexican post-dinner delicacy:

Happy New Year everyone and here’s to 2012 – a year filled with dinner parties a plenty and lots of tasty new wine finds!